EU: Travel surveillance: Commission demands PNR Directive implementation by 14 Member States as 'Informal Working Group' settles in

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Travel surveillance: Commission demands PNR Directive implementation by 14 Member States as 'Informal Working Group' settles in
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The European Commission has sent "letters of formal notice" to 14 EU Member States for failing to to implement the Passenger Name Record (PNR) Directive by the deadline of 25 May 2018.

Meanwhile, an 'Informal Working Group' set up by the Council to assist with national implementation of the Directive appears to be steadily expanding - Australia, Canada and the USA have all participated in meetings and invitations have been sent to Japan and the United Nations, according to a recent document.

The PNR Directive introduces the mandatory surveillance by law enforcement-operated Passenger Intelligence Units (PIUs) of all flights entering, leaving or taking place within the European Union, through the transmission to the PIUs of the personal data contained with Passenger Name Records. These are initially generated by airlines and travel agents but have become of increasing interest to law enforcement agencies around the world in recent years.

Infringement proceedings

The Commission's statement on the launch of infringement proceedings says:

"Today, the Commission decided to send letters of formal notice to 14 Member States (Austria, Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, France, Greece, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia and Spain) for failing to communicate the adoption of national legislation which fully transposes the PNR Directive (Directive 2016/681)."

The statement notes that (emphasis added):

"The processing of PNR data is an important tool for fighting terrorism and serious crime, helping to trace suspicious travel patterns and identify potential criminals and terrorists, including those previously unknown to law-enforcement authorities. It is a key element of the European Agenda for Security and an essential building block towards the effective and genuine Security Union... The Member States concerned now have two months to reply to the letter of formal notice, after which time the Commission may consider addressing Reasoned Opinions."

It also highlights that:

"Over the past few years the Commission has made every effort to help Member States develop their national PNR systems by providing expertise and funding as well as by facilitating the exchange of best practices... The Commission will continue to offer support and guidance to those Member States that have yet to finalise the implementation work."

Informal Working Group on PNR

Those efforts include funding the development of national PNR systems before there was any EU legislation on the issue and, more recently, assisting with the establishment and operation of the 'Informal Working Group on PNR'.

This group has now held five meetings and has a "steadily rising amount of participants," according to a recent update circulated to the Council's Working Group on Information Exchange and Data Protection (DAPIX).

See: NOTE from: General Secretariat of the Council: Update on the Informal Working Group on PNR (10139/18, LIMITE, 21 June 2018, pdf)

The Working Group has four sub-groups, dealing with legal issues, operational issues, carrier connection and interoperability between the different national PIUs.

Revised API Directive on the way

Amongst other things, the document notes that the Commission will publish a proposal to revise the Advance Passenger Information (API) Directive "in the coming months".

The API Directive was passed in 2004 (Council Directive 2004/82/EC of 29 April 2004 on the obligation of carriers to communicate passenger data) with the aim of "improving border controls and combating illegal immigration".

It requires the transmission by airlines of data from individuals' passports or travel documents to the authorities in the destination country and is the reason why travelling on a plane within the EU requires submitting travel document data prior to departure.

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