Sunday 26 January 2020

Personal data of airline passengers sent to US from Europe after controversial bill

MILLIONS of airline customers’ personal data will be handed over to the United States after MEPs voted for new laws that it’s claimed are vital to tackle terrorism.

Passenger Name Records, which include names, addresses, credit cards details and phone numbers, as well as religious meal choices and some sensitive health information, will be shared after the European Parliament voted to approve a controversial bill.

The United States will be able to store and actively exploit the data for up to five years to investigate terrorism and “transnational crime”, although names will be removed after six months.

The data will then be retained for a further 10 years, under stricter access rules.

The vote ends two years of wrangling between the European Commission, which proposed the laws, and MEPs who said they would infringe privacy and civil liberties.

A deal between Brussels and Washington to share PNR data was originally struck in 2007 following the discovery of plots to blow up airliners, including the 2006 “liquid bomb plot”, for which the three British ringleaders were sentenced to life imprisonment.

It expired in 2010, however, and European Commission has been under pressure to push through a permanent deal since. Last year the US Senate passed a resolution calling for action, with Joe Lieberman, chairman of the Homeland Security Committee saying the US “simply cannot accept” cutting off the data, “an important part of our layered defences against terrorism”.

MEPs remain divided on the issue; the bill passed on Thursday by 409 votes to 226.

"We've seen numerous attempts to blow up transatlantic airliners in recent years, how stupid would we look if we had the chance to stop one of these things, and one of the terrorists actually got through, so we have to err on the side of public safety on this," said Martin Callanan, the Tory leader of the conservative group at the European Parliament.

The Commission said its negotiations with MEPs had meant safeguards to protect Europeans’ privacy.

“The new agreement is a substantial improvement on the existing agreement from 2007, and I am pleased that the European Parliament has recognised this today,” said Cecilia Malmström, the European Commissioner for home affairs.

The US also welcomed the vote.

“This PNR agreement will also provide legal certainty for airlines and assure travellers that their privacy will be respected,” said William Kennard, US Ambassador to the EU.

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