US Ambassador to the EU William Kennard congratulated the European Parliament on the 19th April 2012 for voting to support the new US/EU Passenger Name Record (PNR) agreement, saying “The European Parliament’s endorsement of the PNR agreement is a testament to the strong transatlantic relationship and our joint commitment to protecting our citizens.”
However voting in the European Parliament was by no means unanimous. It was a majority vote that went against advice from the ALDE rapporteur Sophie in ‘t Veld (D66, Netherlands), who recommended that consent be withheld. Some 409 votes were in favour, 226 against, with 33 abstentions.
Not meeting EU data privacy standards
ALDE group President Guy Verhofstadt said that, “Liberals and Democrats strongly believe that this new agreement does not meet the minimum criteria outlined by the Parliament in 2011 and that it is not in line with EU legislation on data privacy”.
He noted that though the European Commission believes that this is the best agreement that could be achieved with the present US administration, ALDE group does not consider that the agreement offers sufficient re-assurance on EU data privacy rules to justify supporting it. “The main political parties in the Parliament have crossed a red line by supporting an agreement that compromised on our core principles, namely our EU citizens’ fundamental rights. This sets a dangerous precedent for future agreements with third countries”.
Fundamental rights out the window
ALDE MEP Sophie in’t Veld said the agreement, “still falls short of the high standards of data privacy and legal protection that our citizens expect. In politics we make compromises but some things are not negotiable such as fundamental rights and respect for EU law. Apparently the European Parliament believes transatlantic relations are more important than the fundamental rights of EU citizens.”
According to the European Commission, EU citizens should be able to sue the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) under US laws if they believe that their data is being misused. They should also have a right to access their own PNR data, and to seek changes from the DHS if it is inaccurate, including deletion of the record.
However, since the DHS can decline any “request” to change a record, it is unclear how any individual could make this work in practice. The US department does not have a good record (sic) in this regard; apparently its use of PNR data is exempt even from the US Privacy Act that is designed to protect US citizens. Europeans might as well go suck a lollipop ..
The full text of the agreement is available from:
In 2004 the European Parliament went to court to seek the annulment of the EU/US PNR Agreement. It also refused to vote for consent to the 2007 interim version. The main objections to the 2004 and 2007 agreements, such as the lack of strict limitations on the use of data, disproportionate retention periods (15 years) and inadequate judicial redress have still not been satisfactorily resolved in this latest version.
© Philip Hunt, 2012.