UK government demanding that airlines collect personal data on every passenger

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The Guardian newspaper reports (6 July 2002) that the British Air Transport Association is objecting to Home Office plans to put through parliament a Statutory Instrument, under the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001, requiring airlines to record the name, gender, date of birth, home address etc plus the number of pieces of luggage they are carrying before each plane can take off. The airline industry (including British Airways, Virgin and British Midland) are objecting because the costs and delays this will entail (they say passengers will need to get to airports four hours before a flight). A Home Office spokesperson said: "Advice from the law enforcement agencies is that this is key information needed to target and track terrorists".

The Home Office is intending to put a Statutory Instrument (which are usually nodded through) before parliament to bring in the requirement by the beginning of August (see details below).

This idea was originally put forward by the US authorities at a secret meeting of the EU's high-level Strategic Committee on Immigration, Frontiers and Asylum on 26 October 2001. The US delegation called for the exchange of data between EU members states and themselves to include:

"intelligence driven data (review of passenger lists), data on persons known to be inadmissible due to involvement in criminal activity (trafficking, dealing in false documents etc)"

The US said it already had a database on visa applications which contained the names of people: "involved in various kinds of activities giving rise to concern". All visa applications to enter the US are checked against the database and "signals" are entered for: green (OK), red (refuse) and yellow (where a person should be checked/vetted further).

The basic aim the USA argues is to exclude all "inadmissibles" from entering the US or the EU by extending use and access to passenger details held on APIS (Advanced Passenger Information System) to cover the entry and exits of all passengers. In particular by introducing the Australian use of APIS:

"for pre-boarding intervention especially in the case of "watch-list" persons"

Ongoing US-EU discussions make clear that the concern is not simply with countering terrorism but to exclude from travelling (this avoiding expensive and time-consuming appeals etc) people thought to have committed or suspected of having committed a crime or who are "inadmissible" (a catch-all category including refugees and asylum-seekers who may have been removed from the EU/US). As the US delegation told the meeting on 26 October 2001:

"there was a consensus in the US on the need for an effective system across the board, not targeted specifically at terrorism, but taking the events of 11 September as the trigger for developing a new approach"

Tony Bunyan, Statewatch editor, comments:

"Why didn't the government make their intention clear when the ATCS Act was rushed through parliament, they knew then that this was the measure they were going to introduce because - along with other EU officials - they had been discussing it in secret EU-US talks from October onwards.

The intention is to introduce "pre-boarding" screening of every passenger on every flight leaving a UK airport to exclude "inadmissibles" from boarding the plane (and possibly to detain or arrest them). The government intends to push this through as an anti-terrorism measure but as the discussions show it will extend to suspected criminals, refugees to be excluded and no doubt "troublemakers" going to an EU-wide protest.

If the UK, and the USA, introduce this measure other EU states and the applicant countries will be under enormous pressure to fall into line"

A new UK Statutory Instrument would spell out the information required under Home Office Circular 7/2002, dated 28 February, implementing Section 119 of the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Sec

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