By Martin Banks - 25th April 2013
MEPs are rejecting these agreements just to assert their independence
MEPs have been branded "irresponsible" after a parliamentary committee rejected proposals for a passenger name record system (PNR).
The plan was thrown out by parliament's civil liberties committee on Wednesday by 30 votes to 25.
The proposals, backed by several EU states, were designed to establish an EU-wide legal framework within which passenger data could be exchanged.
The vote means that up to 16 EU countries can still collect passenger data but this will be subject to different rules and procedures for handling and storing it.
Timothy Kirkhope, the UK Tory MEP, said the proposal was designed to harmonise such arrangements but was now in jeopardy following the vote.
He warned, "Terrorists, serious criminals and people traffickers could be much harder to track after this irresponsible vote.
"Not only would this hamper cross-border criminal detection, it would also put at risk the security of passengers' data."
Parliament has passed similar agreements with the US and Canada, allowing passenger information to be passed to them, but not to other member states.
Supporters of the PNR plan say that it has made "significant" contributions to fighting serious crime in those member states which have their own PNR systems.
It is claimed, for instance, that PNR systems have been responsible for 95 per cent of drugs seizures in Belgium, the seizure of 279kg of cocaine in Sweden and the arrest of "many" terrorist suspects including one of the plotters behind the Mumbai attacks.
In the UK alone PNR is claimed to have helped apprehend 57 murderers, 175 rapists, 25 kidnappers, 397 drug offenders and 920 violent criminals.
The proposed PNR agreement allows for the exchange of information held by air carrier reservation systems, including the name and destination of a passenger, which could be analysed by law enforcement bodies.
The position of the committee must now be confirmed by a full plenary vote of the parliament.
Kirkhope, speaking at a news conference after the vote, added, "This agreement enables us to track terrorists, people traffickers and other serious criminals and it would put in place strong protections for passenger data.
"Now we will have a weakened ability to track terrorists, and the safety of passenger data can not be ensured."
The ECR member said, "16 EU countries have said they will put in place a national PNR system but their effectiveness and safeguards will be far less than if we had an EU system. The only winners from this vote are the terrorists, serious criminals and people traffickers."
Kirkhope, a former UK government minister, went on, "MEPs have put ideological dogma before a practical and sensible measure that would have seriously assisted our fight against crime and terror.
"Too often, MEPs are rejecting these agreements just to assert their independence from the national governments who support them.
The Greens group, however, welcomed the outcome of the vote with its French MEP Helene Flautre saying it was a "victory for protection of fundamental rights".
She said, "Travellers' itinerary, hotel booking, credit card details and other personal information in the EU and outside it would have been stored in police databases for at least five years.
"This unacceptable change in security policy would have transformed the presumption of innocence into a presumption of guilt for more than 500 million citizens, running counter to EU case law."