Europe approves passenger data deal with the US

A controversial new agreement on the transfer of EU air passengers’ personal data to US authorities was approved by the European Parliament yesterday.

Passenger Name Record (PNR) data will be used mainly to prevent, detect, investigate and prosecute terrorism and “serious transnational crimes”.

Parliament postponed the vote on a EU-US Passenger Name Record agreement two years ago due to data protection concerns.

MEPs urged the European Commission to negotiate a new deal, which was concluded in 2011. Under the new agreement, US authorities will keep PNR data in an active database for up to five years.

After five years the data will be moved to a “dormant database” for up to 10 years, with stricter access requirements for US officials.

A significant minority of MEPs voted against the deal due to ongoing concerns over data protection safeguards. But a proposal to refer the agreement to the European Court of Justice was rejected.

It was adopted with 409 votes in favour, 226 against and 33 abstentions. Following the vote, Dutch MEP Sophie in’t Veld withdrew her name from the report.

She said: “The decision of the European Parliament does not reflect my recommendation. Therefore I choose to distance myself from it. It is disappointing that after nine years negotiating with our closest friends and allies, the US, we only got an agreement that gets reluctant support from a divided House.”

The deal sets legal conditions and covers issues such as storage periods, use, data protection safeguards and administrative and judicial redress. The agreement is due to be rubber stamped on April 26 and be in force for seven years. It will replace a provisional deal in place since 2007.

The European Parliament adopted a PNR deal with Australia last October and the EU is negotiating a PNR agreement with Canada. PNR data is collected by airlines during the booking process and include names, addresses, credit card details and seat numbers of passengers.

Under US law, airlines are obliged to make the information available to the Department if Homeland Security prior to passenger departure.

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