UN agencies sign new agreement on establishing worldwide travel surveillance systems


The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and the UN Office of Counter-Terrorism (UNOCT) have signed a new 'Memorandum of Agreement' that will extend their cooperation in implementing UN rules requiring that every member state set up systems for the surveillance and profiling of air passengers, in the name of combating terrorism and organised crime.

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The announcement was made in a press release (full text below) on 31 August.

The press release refers to a "new agreement and funding" to help implement a number of UN Security Council (UNSC) resolutions on Passenger Name Record (PNR) data, Advance Passenger Information (API) and other matters.

Statewatch asked the ICAO to provide a copy of the Memorandum of Agreement (which has not been made public) and for further information on the funding that will be made available. So far, no response has been forthcoming.

The process was set in motion by a 2014 UN Security Council Resolution that called for measures to detect and prevent the movement of foreign terrorist fighers; accelerated with the adoption of a further text in 2017 calling for the use of PNR and API and the establishment of watchlists and biometric databases; and was further propelled in 2019 when the Security Council determined that organised crime should also come within the remit of these systems.

As Fionnuala Ní Aoláin remarked in relation to the 2017 resolution, the requirements - which are binding upon UN member states - "could have serious consequences for civil liberties, human rights, and the rule of law worldwide." There are no globally binding privacy and data protection rules, and democracies and dictatorships alike are supposed to implement these new systems.

Further reading

Full-text of the ICAO press release (originally published here)

ICAO, UNOCT, conclude important agreement to curb terrorist mobility through the global exchange of API-PNR data

Montréal, 31 August 2020 – ICAO Secretary General Dr. Fang Liu joined UN Office of Counter-Terrorism (UNOCT) Under-Secretary-General Mr. Vladimir Voronkov in formalizing an important new Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) today, aimed at building member state capacity to prevent, detect and investigate terrorist offenses and other serious crimes through the collection and analysing of Advance Passenger Information (API) and Passenger Name Record (PNR) data.

The new programme importantly follows an ‘All-of-UN’ approach, jointly led by UNOCT and implemented in partnership with ICAO, the Counter Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (CTED), the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the United Nations Office of Information and Communication Technology (OICT), and INTERPOL.

“This new agreement and funding will be critical to ICAO’s efforts to collaborate with the relevant programme partners and enhance countries' awareness of how passenger data can help to detect the flow of Foreign Terrorist Fighters (FTFs) and other serious criminals, as required under UN Security Council resolutions 2178 (2014), 2396 (2017) and 2482 (2019)," highlighted ICAO Secretary General Liu.

“Moving forward,” Dr. Liu continued, “we will be helping member states to have a fuller understanding of their international obligations under the related new amendments to Annex 9 (Facilitation) to the Chicago Convention, and to resolve any conflicts of law that inhibit the international transfer and processing of PNR data with full respect of human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

“We will also assist them in establishing a suitable legislative framework to regulate the collection, transmission, use, retention and sharing of passenger data, in compliance with internationally recognized standards on API, and based upon a universal legal standard that supports the responsible collection, use, processing and protection of PNR data.”

The new UNOCT-ICAO agreement comes into effect upon its signing today, and will guide the related programme efforts through August 2022.

The ICAO Council adopted the related Amendment to Annex 9 of the Chicago Convention at its 220th Session earlier this year. Amendment 28 will become effective in October 2020 and applicable in February 2021.

Resources for Editors

ICAO COVID-19 Platform

ICAO Aviation Security and Facilitation website

ICAO’s Global Aviation Security Plan

About ICAO

A specialized agency of the United Nations, ICAO was created in 1944 to promote the safe and orderly development of international civil aviation throughout the world. It sets standards and guidance necessary for aviation safety, security, efficiency, capacity and environmental protection, amongst many other priorities. The Organization serves as the forum for cooperation in all fields of civil aviation among its 193 Member States.

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