EU plan to collect, not share, air traveler data is ‘absurd'

By 2018, anyone flying to or from the EU will have their details logged for five years

Air passengers entering or leaving the European Union will have their movements kept on file by police authorities from 2018 under draft legislation approved by the European Parliament.

Critics, however, say a lack of provisions to share the data severely limits the plan's usefulness.

Airlines running flights into or out of the EU must hand over the data to national Passenger Information Units (PIUs) that will hold the data for law enforcers. Member states may choose to gather data from travel agencies and to retain information about passengers on flights within the EU too.

However, there will be no centralized EU database of arriving and departing passengers, and no automatic sharing of data between the various national PIUs. With open land borders between countries in the Schengen Area, and no mandatory collection of information on intra-EU flights, it will be difficult for investigators to use the data to determine whether a person of interest is in the EU.

That calls the usefulness of the whole system into question, according to Joe McNamee, executive director of lobby group European Digital Rights (EDRi), who is no fan of the legislation.

"It is absurd that we are being told that these huge databases are hugely valuable to law enforcement, yet we are also told that member states rejected mandatory sharing of this allegedly valuable data."

Beyond those practical restrictions on the usefulness of the databases, there will also be some legal restrictions on what law enforcers can do with the collected data.

It may be processed "only for the purposes of prevention, detection, investigation and prosecution of terrorist offenses and serious crime." Police forces won't get to choose what constitutes a serious crime in their book: There is a list. It includes trafficking in weapons, munitions and explosives, and human beings, participation in a criminal organization, and child pornography.

Curiously for an offense that needn't involve physically visiting a country, cybercrime is also considered serious enough to make the list.

The Passenger Name Record (PNR) Directive Directive still requires the approval of the EU Council of Ministers, but this is expected to be a mere formality since the text voted by the Parliament on Thursday has already been agreed with the national governments the ministers represent.

Once approved by the Council, EU member states will have two years in which to transpose the directive into national law.

After that date, PIUs will retain the data for five years. After the first six months, though, parts of it will be "masked out" so that users of the database can't see passenger names, addresses or contact information. This is supposed to protect passengers' privacy. Accessing or searching on the hidden information will still be possible, but only upon application to the national data protection authorities charged with enforcing privacy rules.

Other privacy protections include a ban on processing information that reveals a person's trade union membership; health; sexual life or sexual orientation; race or ethnic origin; political opinions, religion or philosophical beliefs -- so vegans can at least rest assured that their choice of in-flight meal will remain private.

Law enforcers will have to keep an audit trail of how the passenger data is processed, and this will be used in a review of the law's effectiveness two years after it enters force.

Many Members of the European Parliament resisted the PNR directive, with tactics including delaying the final vote. The issue was controversial because parliamentarians had long opposed an agreement obliging airlines to provide U.S. authorities with PNR information for transatlantic flights.

European Parliament President Martin Schulz hailed the new deal as an important tool in the fight against terrorism and called on national governments to begin systematically sharing passenger data.

But EDRi's McNamee called the new legislation a disgrace. "It is shocking that, less than two years after the European Court overturned a Directive on needless storage of data of innocent citizens, the European Union seems hell bent on adopting another Directive which does almost exactly the same thing."

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Peter Sayer

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Breitling Superocean Heritage Chronographe 44

Learn more >

SanDisk MicroSDXC™ for Nintendo® Switch™

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Panasonic 4K UHD Blu-Ray Player and Full HD Recorder with Netflix - UBT1GL-K

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Razer DeathAdder Expert Ergonomic Gaming Mouse

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

David Coyle

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

I rate the printer as a 5 out of 5 stars as it has been able to fit seamlessly into my busy and mobile lifestyle.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?