A critical EU counter-terror system is a step closer to reality after a committee of MEPs today gave MEP Timothy Kirkhope’s proposals their backing.
The parliament’s civil liberties committee had rejected an original proposal in 2013. The full parliament asked MEPs to continue working to find an agreement, which was then given fresh impetus by the threat of so-called ‘foreign fighters’ returning to Europe from Syria and Iraq.
A PNR system would permit basic information from the time of booking to be stored by authorities. Using the data, highly-trained authorities are able to build up patterns of behaviour that point towards terrorist or criminal behaviour such as trafficking. The use of PNR data reduces profiling by basing law enforcement decisions on patterns of behaviour, rather than a traveller’s profile.
Following the parliament’s rejection, Mr Kirkhope brought forward a revised proposal that took on board the concerns of MEPs by narrowing the types of crime the system can be used to detect, ensuring that sensitive data is deleted after 30 days and all other data masked. The data can then only be accessed by highly qualified professionals for up to five years for terrorism and four for serious crimes (reduced from five years in the original proposal).
Mr Kirkhope has also added in a number of additional safeguards to protect personal data, which have been strengthened further during negotiations with the parliament’s political groups. In an effort to seek agreement in the parliament, Mr Kirkhope also agreed to remove internal EU flights from the proposal.
Following today’s vote, Timothy Kirkhope, a former UK Home Office Minister, said:
“PNR data has already been invaluable for the capture of murderers, paedophiles and rapists. 95 percent of all drug captures in Belgium and 85 percent in Sweden are caught using PNR data. The benefits of collecting this data are clear but we need to put in place a system that both protects personal information and allows less sensitive details to be used in a systematic manner so that patterns of behaviour can be built up over time. By looking at patterns of behaviour with the collection of all PNR data, we are able to minimise the use of ethnic profiling of flights and passengers.
“Without this EU system in place a number of EU governments will go it alone and create their own systems. That would leave gaps in the net and create a patchwork approach to data protection. With one EU-wide system we can close the net and ensure high standards of data protection and proportionality are applied right across Europe.
“The emerging threat posed by so-called ‘foreign fighters’ has made this system even more essential. PNR will make it much harder for trained radicalised fighters to get back into Europe, at least through our airports.
“PNR is not a silver bullet but it can be an invaluable weapon in the armoury. We will now open talks with national governments with a view to reaching a final agreement before the end of the year.”