Lib Dem And UKIP MEPs Put Europe At Risk
Brussels -- Wednesday 24 April, 2013The proposals for a 'Passenger Name Records' agreement within the EU would put in place a strong framework within which passenger data could be exchanged safely and securely. I am responsible for taking the proposals through the Parliament as 'Rapporteur' of the Report. However, a negative vote in the European Parliament's Justice and Home Affairs Committee means that the proposals could now be in jeopardy.
Despite previously supporting the proposals, LibDem MEP Sarah Ludford said she did not wish to upset her wider political group in the parliament by supporting her government - so she walked out at the start of the vote. UKIP MEP Gerard Batten continued his pattern of failing to turn up to most votes in the committee, despite often commenting on their importance in the British media.
The reasons for rejecting the proposal are, in my view, hypocritical. Most MEPs who voted to block this measure said that they want better protections for air passengers (in terms of their rights). They also say that this measure should come after the European Parliament has negotiated the Data Protection Directive. But both these arguments are flawed: my report would actually introduce a good set of rights for air travellers, and it could be years before the Data Protection Directive is ever adopted.
The failed vote means that up to 16 EU countries will still collect passenger data, but 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 could this hamper cross-border criminal detection, it could also put at risk the security of passengers' data.
Ironically, the European Parliament has passed similar agreements with the USA and Australia - 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.
After the vote I put out a statement that read:
"A Lib Dem MEP walked out of the vote through fear of upsetting her colleagues, and UKIP continued their policy of being bone idle. We could have won this vote if it were not for their laziness and spinelessness.
"This agreement would have enabled 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.
"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. Most people give more information on their Tesco clubcard than would be exchanged between national governments.
"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 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."
Notes: The Passenger Name Records (PNR) agreement allows for the exchange of basic 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.