By Martin Banks - 18th April 2012
We need to know too that the US authorities will not use PNR information for other purposes
Senior MEP Rebecca Harms has liked the proposed Passenger Name Record (PNR) system to a "data vacuum cleaner".
Her comments at a news conference in Strasbourg on Wednesday comes as MEPs prepare to vote on new rules to govern the transfer of EU air passengers' personal data to the US authorities.
This includes how long data is stored, and how it is used and protected by the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS). MEPs will debate and vote on the issue on Thursday.
The deal sets the legal conditions for the transfer of this data and covers issues such as storage periods, purpose of the data use, data protection safeguards, administrative and judicial redress.
It also includes information such as the name, address, phone number, credit card details, travel agency data, baggage information, (such as the number of bags), and seat number.
PNR can also include "sensitive" data, most frequently tied to a religious meal choice or requests for assistance due to a medical condition. PNR data is stored in airlines' reservation and departure control databases and made available to the US DHS.
The agreement is intended to replace another deal applied provisionally since 2007.
At a briefing for journalists, Harms, a German deputy, voiced disquiet about the agreement, saying it would allow possibly sensitive information to be stored "over a considerable period of time".
"We are not happy with this," she said.
She likened it to a "data vacuum cleaner that sucks up and stores information".
She also challenged the proposition that such data could always effectively be used in the fight against terror, saying, "The recent atrocity in Toulouse is just the most recent example of this.
"There was data available on the perpetrator but this did not stop a terrorist act from taking place."
She added, "This offensive on data gathering is supposed to stop such atrocities."
Speaking on the same issue, ALDE leader Guy Verhofstadt said his group was seeking "additional guarantees" about PNR before its members were prepared to vote for it this week.
He said, "Parliament cannot change this agreement but merely vote for or against it but we shall be seeking to limit the scope of it.
"We support the fight against terror and international crime, of course, but need to know too that the US authorities will not use PNR information for other purposes such as against migrants or relatively minor offences.
"We have asked for additional guarantees and want the scope of the deal to be limited. We are awaiting a declaration from the commission on this before deciding how to vote."
The EPP group, parliament's biggest, said it would support the agreement although there was concern about "some shortcomings".