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MEPs ask for more time before full vote on PNR data transfer

Out-Law News | 09 Mar 2010 | 9:12 am | 2 min. read

Members of the European Parliament (MEP) have been asked not to torpedo a long-standing agreement on sending air passengers' personal details to US authorities to leave time for a new deal to be negotiated.

Passenger name records (PNR) are sets of 19 pieces of information that US authorities demand on every air traveller entering that country. Originally collected for commercial reasons, the details have been used for security and crime purposes since terrorist attacks in the US in 2001.

A 2007 deal on PNR data transfers agreed by ministers on the EU Council was only provisional and the coming into effect of the Lisbon Treaty late last year means that to continue the deal now needs the approval of the European Parliament.

The same was true of the deal the European Commission had agreed on the transfer of banking data to the US and the Parliament last month voted to reject that agreement.

The MEP responsible for PNR, Civil Liberties Committee Rapporteur Sophie In't Veld, has asked MEPs to postpone an April vote on the issue to allow time for a deal to be struck that would satisfy the US, the Commission and Parliament.

"Let's postpone the vote and use the time that would give us to devise a standard approach for the transfer of PNR data to third countries," she said in a statement. She said that she wanted a new version of PNR acceptable to all to be ready "towards the end of the autumn". 

In't Veld warned that if the Parliament voted to strike down the interim agreement it could be more damaging to citizens than the rejection of the SWIFT deal on financial information, as suddenly data could not be transferred to the US.

"The consequences will be much more serious," she said. "The provision of PNR data is part of the conditions the United States have imposed in exchange for a derogation from the visa regime."

Opposing political parties on the Civil Liberties Committee largely agreed with In't Veld's proposal the Parliament statement said.

In't Veld said that a "standard model" for PNR should be created that would allow for the transfer of data to the US but would also adhere to the minimum standards demanded by the Parliament in a 2008 resolution. Those related to data protection standards; the period of retention of data; the status of any agreement; and its legal limits.

According to a statement from the European Parliament the European Commission has said that it is working on a standard model of PNR communication with third countries, but that it doubted that the MEPs' proposed timetable was realistic.

Past PNR deals have been opposed by the Parliament and one was hastily renegotiated after Europe's top court the Court of Justice ruled it illegal on a technicality.

The UK Government said in 2006 that it could make an amendment to existing laws easily which would allow the data of UK citizens to pass to the US without the need for an EU-wide deal on PNR.