Parliament gears up for tricky debate on Passenger Name Record Directive

By March 13, 2015EU

By Owen Bennett

In 2011 the European Commission launched the Directive on Passenger Name Record (PNR), bringing the highly sensitive topic of data retention and sharing to the fore of the Institutions’ agenda. After being shot down by MEPs initially, the January terrorist attacks in Paris have rejuvenated the Directive within the policymaking sphere.  All eyes are now on the Parliament as it scrambles to form a position on the Directive before the year’s end.

A passenger name record is the information provided by air passengers when booking flights and includes contact details, travel itinerary, and payment information. At present, many EU states collect and share PNR data on a bilateral scale, but the new Commission Directive seeks to harmonise Member States’ regulations on the collection and sharing of PNR.  It is argued that an EU-wide PNR regime would allow anti-terror state agencies to identify previously ‘unknown’ persons of interest, especially those travelling to and from the Syrian Civil War. However, concerns have been raised over the impact of PNR sharing on citizens’ right to privacy.

The Commission text on PNR was rejected by the Parliament’s Civil Liberties committee in early 2013, with the majority reasoning that the Directive contravened fundamental rights and did not meet the proportionality criterion. Sensing the strong political will for harmonisation from the Commission and Member States,  Parliament voted in June 2013 to send the text back to the Civil Liberties committee in a bid to reach agreement on a position.

While debates surrounding the Directive have been continuing in committee for over a year, the Charlie Hebdoe attacks and subsequent terror incidents in Belgium and Denmark have increased the urgency among MEPs to find a solution to the impasse. Indeed, in a plenary resolution on anti-terrorism on 11th February Parliament committed itself to “work towards the finalisation of an EU PNR Directive by the end of the year”.

A Civil Liberties committee vote on the proposal is expected in April before a full plenary vote in the summer. Discussions in the Parliament look set to be highly controversial, as the various political groupings remain divided on the core tenants of the proposed Directive. The Commission has signaled its intention to drop the proposal should committee MEPs vote it down for a second time, a move which has heightened stakes.

With the Council already in agreement on its positon on the Directive, all eyes will indeed be on the Parliament as PNR takes centre stage.

To learn more about the Passenger Name Record Directive and its impact on data processors in the aviation industry, contact the Political Intelligence Brussels office

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