The need for EU PNR has never been stronger

Timothy KIRKHOPE

Conservative MEP for Yorkshire and The Humber, responsible for drafting the Parliament’s report on the Passenger Name Record (PNR) proposal.

An EU-wide Passenger Name Records (PNR) system is a vital tool for combatting serious crime and terrorism across Europe, by allowing for the exchange of data collected by airlines for flights within the EU. Therefore I am pleased that MEPs have now reached a deal with national governments that balances strong safeguards – such as ensuring that data is handled in a proportionate manner – with a system which will deliver real results.
As lead negotiator on this deal, I want to make clear that the need for an effective PNR system is not just restricted to the very necessary need to detect foreign fighters and potential terrorists. PNR data has also been crucial for helping police catch criminals such as sex offenders or people involved in drug smuggling or human trafficking.
The statistics speak for themselves.
Previous use of PNR data through e-borders schemes has led to the refusal of entry or detention of many individuals, including 57 people wanted for murder, 175 for rape or sexual assault, 398 for drugs offences, 441 for fraud and 920 for violence.
Our closest security ally, the US, has helped to foil plots in the EU through its analysis of information provided by PNR or through the Terrorist Finance Tracking Programme (TFTP).
Despite the claims of scaremongers, this is not a one-sided transfer of data across the Atlantic, but a true partnership. Just as the sharing of data with the US has been instrumental in identifying terrorist threats and serious crime, the sharing of PNR information on intra-EU flights can be an important contributing factor in identifying and locating the movements of those presenting a security threat across Europe.
As the only EU country which already has a fully operational PNR system, I am pleased that the UK has been a leading force in the development of an EU PNR system.
With the most sophisticated PNR System in the world, the British government has provided many insights into both the potential applications of such a system and, crucially, any potential pitfalls.
Based on this experience I fought hard in the negotiations to ensure that the provisions in the final agreement for sharing of data will now only occur in cases where it is relevant and necessary.
The UK government has repeatedly pointed out that any form of mandatory sharing, where data on people who are not suspected of anything is shared, would be disproportionate and indeed counterproductive. Such compulsory sharing would simply over-load law enforcement authorities with data that in any case they would not be able to use.
Questions are often raised over the issue of so-called profiling. It is important to make clear that PNR data looks for patterns of behaviour, and does not profile people’s background or seek to extract sensitive information.
It is only when suspicious patterns are identified that the data needs to be shared and reviewed. In fact the use of PNR data to study these patterns has been shown to reduce the amount of profiling needed, as well as helping security services identify previously unknown individuals who may be up to no good.
As legislators we have a responsibility, first and foremost, to ensure the safety and security of all our citizens. The PNR system is a very important tool in the fight against trafficking, organized crime and terrorism. It is not a silver bullet, but should be seen as part of a wider package of security measures. Neither is it a kneejerk reaction in response to any one specific attack or the threat of terrorism.
With 14 countries in the EU already looking into their own PNR systems the choice here is not between an EU PNR system and no EU PNR system; it is between an EU PNR system and potentially 28 national PNR systems that will have vastly differing, or even absent, standards for protecting passenger data.
I have no hesitation therefore in recommending that the European Parliament as a whole backs this agreement, ensuring we can better protect our citizens, and create an effective but balanced EU PNR system.”

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