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MEP’s put Europe at risk of criminals and terrorists with irresponsible vote on passenger data

24 April 2013

MEP’s put Europe at risk of criminals and terrorists with irresponsible vote on passenger data

Terrorists, serious criminals and people traffickers could be much harder to track after an ‘irresponsible’ vote in the European Parliament rejected a crucial agreement, taken through the parliament by Timothy Kirkhope MEP.

Terrorists, serious criminals and people traffickers could be much harder to track after an ‘irresponsible’ vote in the European Parliament rejected a crucial agreement, taken through the parliament by Timothy Kirkhope MEP.

The proposals, which would put in place a strong framework within which passenger data could be exchanged, are now in jeopardy after the Home Affairs committee’s vote. This means that up to 16 EU countries will still collect passenger data, but so far with completely different rules and procedures in place for handling and storing it, and no ability to share it when tackling cross-border offenders. Not only would this hamper cross-border criminal detection, it would also put at risk the security of passengers’ data.

Ironically, the European Parliament has passed similar agreements already with the USA and Canada – meaning that passenger information can readily be passed to them, but not to other EU Member States.

Similar national PNR systems have made significant contributions to 95 percent of Belgian drugs seizures, the seizure of 279kg of cocaine in Sweden, the arrest of many terrorist suspects including one of the plotters behind the Mumbai attacks. In the UK alone it has helped to catch 57 murderers, 175 rapists, 25 kidnappers, 397 drug offenders and 920 violent criminals.

The position of the committee must now be confirmed by a full plenary vote of the parliament.

Following the vote, Mr Kirkhope, European Conservatives and Reformists Justice and Home Affairs spokesman, and a former UK Home Office Minister, said:

“This agreement enables us to track terrorists, people traffickers and other serious criminals and it would put in place strong protections for passenger data. Now we will have a weakened ability to track terrorists, and the safety of passenger data can not be ensured.

“16 EU countries have said they will put in place a national PNR system but their effectiveness and safeguards will be far less than if we had an EU system. The only winners from this vote are the terrorists, serious criminals and people traffickers.

“MEPs have put ideological dogma before a practical and sensible measure that would have seriously assisted our fight against crime and terror. Too often, MEPs are rejecting these agreements just to assert their independence from the national governments who support them.

“The data that will be exchanged is very rudimentary such as name and destination. Under no circumstances could it be used for passenger profiling based on religion or ethnicity.

“The few national systems that have been created so far have been incredibly beneficial to our fight against crime and terror. The value of PNR data is beyond doubt and this vote could undermine our security.

“Thankfully the full parliament will still get a final say on this rejection and I hope they do the sensible thing and reverse this vote.”

The Passenger Name Records (PNR) agreement allows for the exchange of information held by air carrier reservation systems (name, destination etc) which can be analysed by law enforcement bodies. The proposal would restrict the use of such data to serious criminal and terror offences and the data would be depersonalised one month after the flight, where it is retained for five years. No data that reveals ethnic origin or political and religious beliefs can be stored or transferred. Governments would not be able to directly access the database of air carriers. Instead, air carriers would be able to provide it on request, with clear rules for storage and security of the data, as well as the right for passengers to delete data and to receive judicial redress.

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