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PNR Directive: USA offers a helping hand to EU air travel surveillance and profiling efforts
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The USA has invited EU Member States to visit its National Targeting Center (NTC), which "uses several automated enforcement data processing systems that are focused on detecting and preventing terrorist access to the United States," as joint efforts between EU institutions, agencies and the Member States to implement the Passenger Name Record (PNR) Directive on the surveillance and profiling of air passengers continue. Official documentation made public here also reveals other aspects of the implementation of the Directive, such as the inclusion of customs authorities as recipients of PNR data.

The invitation from the USA is noted in the minutes (7930/17, LIMITE, pdf) of the March 2017 meeting of the Informal Working Group on PNR (IWG PNR).

The group was set up to try to ensure the smooth implementation of the EU's PNR Directive, which was finally approved by the European Parliament April 2016 and in the name of fighting terrorism and serious crime mandates the surveillance and profiling of passengers on all flights entering, leaving or within the EU.

According to the minutes, the USA invited "all [Member States] to visit NTC to see good practices in working with PNR. The US wishes everyone patience and resilience, it’s complex but the benefits will show."

The US government's website on the 'Information Sharing Environment' notes that the National Targeting Center-Passenger (NTC-P):

"uses several automated enforcement data processing systems that are focused on detecting and preventing terrorist access to the United States including the Automated Targeting System-Passenger and the Intelligence Operations Framework System. These systems allow NTC-P to screen passenger manifests and related information prior to a passenger’s arrival in the United States and to respond to terrorism related alerts and provide time sensitive research and support on any issues related to international passengers and travel at and between U.S. ports of entry."

The NTC-P has a counterpart, NTC-C, that deals with cargo instead of passengers.

Minutes of the EU-USA Justice and Home Affairs Senior Officials Meeting in September 2016, published by Statewatch, record that: "The US delegation offered to assist EU Member States with PNR and PNR capabilities, and 'off the shelf technology', the Automated Targeting System."

UK leads on "operational" issues

Meanwhile, the EU's IWG PNR has spawned a number of subgroups, one of which - 'Operational' - is led by the UK and aims to:

"a) Promote and develop the operational use of PNR targeting in the EU
b) Develop common standards of capability across EU PNR targeting
c) Identify and develop best practice for PNR targeting across the EU
d) Develop a tasking and co-ordination process that allows interoperability to take place in an effective manner"

The minutes also note an 'Update on International High Speed Trains' from Belgium, one of four countries (alonside France, the Netherlands and the UK) that has announced its intention to move towards a surveillance and profiling system for high-speed passenger trains:

"They took the initiative to establish a taskforce of experts of the governments involved – chaired by Belgium - to reach a common approach on how they process passenger data in the field of highspeed trains. The governments’ aim is to set clear ambitions, using common terms, taking account of public security operational requirements and of operators’ business processes to ensure absolute clarity from the governments towards the sector. As decided in Malta, a first meeting has been organised with representatives of Eurostar, Eurotunnel and Thalys. They have accepted voluntarily to join the work of the taskforce to help establish this common approach. This way of working ensures the development of an approach that takes into account the specific nature of the sector, while fostering international security.

The taskforce is currently in the phase of developing a common approach paper. This document will be submitted for validation at political level in the margin of the next JHA meeting end of March. The taskforce decided to give an update about their work on the next Landsec meeting (end of April)."

At EU level, the process of implementing the PNR Directive is being overseen by the Council's Working Party on Information Exchange and Data Protection (DAPIX). A recent agenda (CM 2653/1/17 REV 1, pdf) shows just how much work is ongoing.

Customs to get involved

Another LIMITE document reveals that the Presidency of the Council is seeking to ensure that Member States' customs authorities can receive and process PNR data:

"The Presidency considers it necessary for the customs authorities to be recognised as a competent authority for requesting or receiving PNR data or to receive information from the PIUs [Passenger Information Units]. This could also include the involvement of customs authorities in the setting up of the PIUs.

As a designated competent authority, the customs authorities would be able to cooperate with other authorities from within a PIU and contribute directly to its vital work."

On 1 June, the Council's Customs Cooperation Working Party was briefed (10088/17, 13 June 2017, pdf) on the outcome of discussions in the 29 May DAPIX meeting (emphasis added):

"The Netherlands debriefed delegations on the discussions held in DAPIX on 29 May 2017 on the added value of customs for Passenger Information Units (9439/17). The Netherlands considered that for the Working Party on Information Exchange and Data Protection (DAPIX) the recognition of customs authorities as competent authorities for the purposes of Article 7 of the PNR Directive was generally accepted. As for the direct involvement in the PIU of customs authorities, the Netherlands informed that this idea was supported by several delegations in DAPIX due to their great deal of experience in dealing with PNR data. The Commission stated the view that after the implementation of the PNR Directive, it would not be possible Member States to continue running their national systems whereby customs receive PNR data directly from airlines..According to the Commission, the PNR Directive organized in a complete manner the transmission of PNR data from carriers to Member States and PNR data could be processed only for the purposes listed in the Directive."

Implementing the PNR Directive: recent documentation

Presidency, Minutes of the Informal Working Group on PNR (IWG PNR) Brussels, 7 March 2017 (7930/17, LIMITE, 3 April 2017, pdf)

Presidency, Directive (EU) 2016/681 on the use of passenger name record (PNR) data - The added value of customs for Passenger Information Units (PIU) (9439/17, LIMITE, 22 May 2017, pdf)

Presidency, Implementation of Directive (EU) 2016/681 on the use of PNR data for the prevention, detection, investigation and prosecution of terrorist offences and serious crime (7931/17, LIMITE, 3 April 2017, pdf):

"Regarding the implementation process, it is well known that an imbalanced situation has to be faced since several Member States have already dedicated PNR legislation in place or are technically able to collect PNR data but within a different legal framework. Some Member States are still drafting the national PNR legislation or are waiting to submit to Parliament whilst other Member States are waiting for the Parliament to adopt the legislation. With this in mind, an overall horizontal coordination was asked for to avoid fragmentation and to define issues where enhanced cooperation is needed."

Spanish delegation, Directive (EU) 2016/681 on the use of passenger name record (PNR) data - Technical aspects and application in the intelligence field / discussion note (9456/17, LIMITE, 22 May 2017, pdf):

"Spain is highly interested to implement (EU) Directive 2016/681 on the use of passenger name record data, the so-called PNR Directive, and likes to remind Member States of the challenges for the establishment of national PIUs."

Background: Statewatch News Online

Putting the PNR pieces in place: more EU funding for mass surveillance (March 2016)

PNR: €70 million for swift implementation of travel surveillance and profiling infrastructure (December 2016)

EU-USA JHA Senior Officials meeting 8-9 September 2016 (October 2016)

EU-PNR: European Parliament has "egg on its face" (April 2016)

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