Arriving soon: global air travel surveillance and passenger profiling with no democratic control


The ICAO, Interpol and various UN bodies are continuing their efforts to aid the establishment of systems for the surveillance of air travel and the automated profiling of passengers.

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All UN member states are obliged to establish such systems to implement UN Security Council resolutions passed in response to the "foreign terrorist fighter" phenomenon.

A recent ICAO/Interpol event seeking to push those efforts forwards included presentations from representatives of EU border agency Frontex and the French interior ministry.

The text below is a press release published by the ICAO on 31 May 2021.

Find out more about the use of Passenger Name Record (PNR) and Advance Passenger Information (API) data for surveillance and profiling in the Statewatch Database.

Implementation of passenger data exchange standards crucial to counter terrorism and prevention of serious crime

Montréal, 31 May 2021 – At the ICAO/Interpol Passenger Data Exchange Forum, held virtually from 27-28 May in conjunction with this year’s ICAO TRIP Symposium, ICAO Secretary General Dr. Fang Liu highlighted the vital importance of ramping up the global implementation of ICAO’s new Advanced Passenger Information (API) and Passenger Name Record (PNR) standards given their pivotal importance to UN-system counter terrorism and crime prevention efforts.

The Forum offered the attending States insights into how the effective implementation of Passenger Data Exchange Systems and data analysis can improve border control tools to tackle terrorism and serious crime, and provided information on the related types of support available to them.

The event also covered ICAO and Interpol’s cooperation through the United Nations Countering Terrorist Travel Programme, alongside other UN partners. This programme improves State capacities to prevent, detect, and investigate offenses through the processing of API and PNR data. It assists 40 states around the world and has been generously funded by the Netherlands, the European Union, the United States, Qatar, Australia, Japan, and India.

“ICAO certainly hasn’t underestimated the challenges that States face when implementing passenger data exchange programmes, and we hope that this event has helped governments to appreciate the wide ranging support available to them, whether from ICAO itself, our UN partners, other international organizations, and the many States who have already been through this journey,” declared Secretary General Liu. 

“We also should maintain no illusions that COVID-19’s impacts are preventing members of terrorist groups and transnational organized crime groups from attempting to travel across the globe to undertake criminal acts.”

“One key piece of data shared, a simple check at the frontlines, can mean a potential threat to air travel is identified,” remarked INTERPOL Secretary General Mr. Jürgen Stock. “We need to close gaps which are being exploited by criminals and terrorists to undermine our societies and this forum is an important step in achieving this.”

The new and revised API/PNR guidance became applicable under the Chicago Convention’s Annex 9 – Facilitation on 28 February 2021. The standards and recommended practices (SARPs)  establish a global framework for the collection, use, processing, and protection of PNR data. 

“With these new SARPs, Annex 9 now places a clearly-defined obligation on States to be able to collect and process API/PNR data,” Dr. Liu clarified. “This is an important step in the implementation of UN Security Council resolution 2396.” 

The ICAO/Interpol Forum provided an exceptional opportunity to accelerate momentum on this point, with the World Customs Organization and U.S. Customs and Border Protection demonstrating the various types of technical support and capacity building they provide to States in the early phases of developing these capacities. 

Interpol, Frontex, and the Interior Ministry of France also provided important contributions, offering interesting insights into how to process API and PNR data for diverse law enforcement objectives

Image: toufeeq hussain, CC BY-SA 2.0

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