European Commissioner responsible for Justice, Freedom and
“Data protection and transfer of PNR data”
Strasbourg, 13 December 2006
On 19th October the European Union and the United States concluded an agreement for the processing and transfer of passenger name record data by air carriers to the United States Department of Homeland Security. The US Government confirmed a set of Undertakings which guarantee the protection and security of PNR data.
Against this background concern has been expressed in recent days following information published last month by the Department of Homeland Security on the "Automated Targeting System". This is a security screening system making a risk assessment of international travellers relying, among other things, on PNR data. The information published by the DHS reveals significant differences between the way in which PNR data are handled within the Automated Targeting System on the one hand and the stricter regime for European PNR data according to the Undertakings given by the DHS.
The Council Presidency and Commission are contacting the US Government to request formal confirmation that the way EU PNR data are handled in the ATS is the one described in the Undertakings.
The current EU-US Agreement on PNR data will expire in July of next year. The Commission will, at the beginning of 2007, recommend to Council to mandate the Presidency, assisted by the Commission, to negotiate a new PNR agreement with the United States. I am sure that any new agreement will provide for a high level of data protection for all PNR data transferred under the agreement while protecting the security of our citizens.
I have always taken the position that travellers must be informed when their PNR data may be transferred to competent authorities of third countries. The DHS Undertakings expressly acknowledge this. We need security and privacy. We need an international agreement with the support of the public on both sides of the Atlantic and of the democratic representatives of the peoples.
I have often said that there is an important balance to be struck between measures to ensure security on the one hand and the protection of non-negotiable fundamental rights on the other. The Commission, assisting the Presidency in the negotiation of future PNR agreements with third countries, will ensure that security issues are properly addressed through the transfer and appropriate use of PNR data, while protecting personal data guaranteed by Article 8 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights.
Finally, a high level Contact Group was set up at the EU-US JLS Ministerial troika on 6 November 2006 to discuss information sharing and protection of personal data for law enforcement purposes. There is a clear need on both sides of the Atlantic to work more closely together on these issues.
We need a broader perspective and a long-term vision to tackle, together with the US, the terrorist threat without putting at risk the fundamental rights of individuals.
We do have a common problem and threat – terrorism - which will continue to exist in the coming months and years. Only a very solid strategy, and a balanced cooperation with our main international partner, will allow reducing, if not eliminating, this modern form of 'totalitarianism' against democracy.