Wednesday, 31 March 2004

European Parliament rejects travel data "deal" with the USA

At today’s plenary session today, the European Parliemant voted 229 to 202, with 19 abstentions, in favor of a report and motion for a resolution with additional strengthening amendments that rejects, on multiple grounds, the “agreement” proposed by the European Commission to permit transfers of airline PNRs (“passenger name records”) from the European Union to the USA. (Today’s plenary minutes aren’t yet posted on the Europarl Web site. Thanks to Statewatch for mirroring the EP documents.)

The vote to reject the proposed agreement came despite the defection from the liberal/socialist caucus of one of the largest EP delegations, that of the UK Labour Party.

The USA and some in the EU had hoped to use the proposed “agreement” as the model for further agreements for the transfer to the USA, and sharing with the USA government and governments worldwide, of additional travel data from other sources and for other purposes, including “Advance Passenger Information” (API) collected by airlines from passports and/or passengers, and PNR and API data to be used in the CAPPS-II scheme.

In an interview with before the plenary vote, USA Under Secretary of Homeland Security for Border and Transportion Security Asa Hutchinson gave an ambiguous statement of how the USA would proceed:

Question: Looking to the future in this field, what is the new CAPPS II timetable?

Asa Hutchinson: There is not a timetable other than we hope to test the system this summer or at the latest this fall. Our first responsibility is to test it, to evaluate it and make whatever adjustments are necessary. The CAPPS II timetable will depend on the completion of testing.

The CAPPS II negotiations with Europe are really in abeyance until we have the system tested, further discussions will be required and obviously to have the final adoption of the current PNR ‘adequacy’ finding.

Where there was no ambiguity was in Hutchinson’s endorsement of mandatory worldwide fingerprinting for biometric identity documents — currently under discussion by ICAO as “reasonable” and as no more than an “inconvenience”, not a violation of rights:

Question: Benjamin Franklin said: “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety”. How far can security be put first and what is the limit in terms of privacy and civil liberties?

Asa Hutchinson: We should not give up essential liberty but we should be willing to give up some level of convenience in order to achieve greater security.

Question: In terms of something concrete, such as mandatory fingerprinting for biometric ID documents, is that something that is a matter of convenience?

Asa Hutchinson: That specific example is reasonable inconvenience, or intrusion, in order to tremendously enhance the security of our travellers. So I think it is a reasonable step to confirming the identity of international travellers.

Today’s vote was on Europarl approval on the proposed agreement on PNR transfers. It’s not clear whether the EP vote is directly binding on the European Commission, which brought the agreement before Parliament. But the EP resolution points out that the proposed agreement fails to satisfy both EU and USA procedural requirements (in the USA, that would require ratification by the U.S. Senate as a treaty, something the DHS has never mentioned as a possibility). And the EP resolution explicitly calls for enforcement of national data protection laws whihc are being violated by non-consensual PNR transfers to the USA, and reserves the right to challenge the proposed “agreement” and the EC finding of “adequacy” of USA data protection in the European Court of Justice.

The finding of “adequacy” of protection for travel data once transferred to the USA is the subject of separate report and motion for a resolution, which is expected to be considered next week by the LIBE Committee and later next month by the Europarl plenary. Since the proposed “agreement” depends on the proposed finding of “adequacy”, an EP vote against a finding of adequacy of data protection will make it substantially more difficult for the European Commission, or the USA, to disregard the will of the European Parliament (which the USA has previosuly promised it would respect on this issue).

Both the Europarl and ICAO continue to consider parallel proposals for Europe-wide and worldwide sharing of PNRs and other travel data.

[Addendum, 1 April 2004: Statewatch has now posted the full text of the resolution as moved in the European Parliament plenary.]

Link | Posted by Edward on Wednesday, 31 March 2004, 08:39 ( 8:39 AM)

A leading international English-language paper has just published a story on this event: "European Parliament calls demands for airline data illegal",

Posted by: Thomas Ruddy, 1 April 2004, 04:19 ( 4:19 AM)
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