MEPs in the European Parliament on 25/11/2014 referred the EU/Canada agreement on the exchange of Passenger Name Records (PNR) to the European Court of Justice (ECJ). MEPs have asked that the PNR agreement be given a preliminary check by the Court before the Parliament’s final vote, given the questions over whether such deals conform with EU treaties and the Charter of Fundamental Rights.
The PNR agreement was first signed by the EU Council of Ministers and Canada on 25 June 2014, but needs Parliament’s consent to enter into force. MEPs approved the latest resolution by 383 votes to 271, with 47 abstentions. Before voting, MEPs rejected a proposal to postpone the vote (307 in favour of postponement, 380 against and 14 abstentions).
“We want legal certainty for EU citizens and air carriers, not just with regard to the EU/Canada PNR agreement, but also as a benchmark for future agreements with other countries which involve the mass collection of European citizens’ personal data”, said Parliament’s rapporteur Sophie In’t Veld.
“Russia, Mexico, Korea and other countries with weaker data protection rules are collecting passenger flight information and might want to negotiate their own agreements soon. It should be clear that any agreement, present or future, must be compatible with EU treaties and fundamental rights and must not be used as a means to lower European data protection standards via the back door”, she added.
Recent opinion in the European Parliament has been swayed by a critical assessment from the European Data Protection Supervisor on the proportionality of PNR schemes, bulk transfer of data and the legal basis for such agreements. Also by the recent ECJ ruling invalidating the 2006 Data Retention directive and condemning the bulk collection and storage of data on people not suspected of any crime.
Parliament’s final vote will not now take place until the Court has delivered its opinion.
Passenger Name Record (PNR) data is provided by passengers and collected by air carriers during the reservation and check-in procedures. It includes information such as name, dates of travel and travel itinerary, ticket information, address and phone numbers, means of payment used, credit card number, travel agent, seat number and baggage information.
The present agreement with Canada involves the Canada Border Services Agency (BSA) requesting passenger air carriers flying into and out of Canada to give access to PNR data before passengers enter or leave Canadian territory. The PNR data is accessed and analysed with the purpose of fighting terrorism and serious cross-border crime.
The EU currently has agreements on the transfer and use of PNR with Australia, the US and Canada.