EU Passenger Name Records: every airline passenger a potential suspect.
Today is a historic day in both a positive and a negative sense: on the one hand European Parliament has taken an important step forward in the area of privacy by adopting the General Data Protection Regulation. On the other hand, that same parliament has today concurred with large-scale storage of data of European airline passengers. As a result, every airline passenger becomes a potential suspect.
The General Data Protection Regulation will replace national privacy legislation in all EU Member States (this includes the Dutch Data Protection Act, Wet bescherming persoonsgegevens) and, in broad terms, will lead to better privacy protection throughout the European Union. Privacy Impact Assessments and Privacy by Design will become obligatory. These are two important features which Privacy First has for years been advocating for. Fundamental privacy principles such as necessity, proportionality and subsidiarity (obligatory use of privacy-friendly alternatives) will be more strongly enshrined and better elaborated.
In this light it is surprising that on the same day European Parliament has also adopted a measure that is in blatant disregard of these selfsame principles: the European Passenger Name Records (PNR) Directive. Under this PNR Directive, the data of all European airline passengers will be stored in centralized government databases for the duration of five years for the detection and prosecution of serious crimes, counter-terrorism, intelligence gathering, etc. Large amounts of travel data (names and addresses, telephone numbers, destinations, credit card data, even meals and service requests) of millions of people will therefore remain available to law enforcement and intelligence services for the purpose of datamining and profiling.
However, in 99.99% of all cases this concerns innocent citizens, most of which are people on vacation and business travellers. This constitutes a flagrant violation of their right to privacy and freedom of movement. Because of this, in recent years there had been a lot of political resistance against this plan which, since 2010, has been repealed on various occasions by both the Dutch House of Representatives as well as European Parliament. Last year, Dutch ruling parties VVD (Liberals) and PvdA (Labour) were still resolutely opposed to PNR. At the time, these parties referred to it as a ‘vacation register’ and even threatened to turn to the European Court of Justice in case the EU PNR Directive were to be approved of. But after the attacks in Paris and Brussels, many political reservations now seem to have disappeared like snow melting in the sun. Meanwhile, the necessity and proportionality of large-scale PNR storage has still not been proven. In the view of Privacy First, this PNR Directive is therefore unlawful in advance.
At the moment Privacy First is looking into legal steps to sweep this directive aside after all, either through a Dutch court or by lodging a direct appeal before the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg. Additionally, Privacy First will continue to advocate for a privacy-friendly PNR system which records and monitors only suspected individuals and leaves the vast majority of travellers alone.
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