The European Parliament bowed to corporate pressure last month and approved the Directive on Passenger Name Records (PNR). This Directive will oblige airlines to hand over to national authorities passenger data from all flights between EU countries and other countries. The data collected will include 42 different pieces of information, including bank details, address, seat choice and meal ordered.
The European Commission and some Member States have, for the past five years, been pushing hard to get this Directive passed. The power of the corporate lobby, always king in Brussels, is also evident. Multi- National IT and security companies seeking new markets are leading policymakers by the nose on PNR. These companies are exploiting fear to further their own financial interests.
This has happened despite the European Commission bringing forward no hard evidence to demonstrate the need for PNR collection. On the contrary the working group set up to look at the introduction of PNR actually stated: “There are no objective statistics of evidence which clearly show the value of PNR data in the international fight against terrorism and serious transnational crime”.
The PNR is not only a waste of half a billion euro of taxpayers’ money, it actually contravenes the EU’s own rules. The mass retention of personal data has already been ruled illegal by the European Court of Justice on grounds of proportionality. The EU Data Privacy Chief Giovanni Buttarelli has said that the PNR proposal is too invasive and unlikely to stop terrorism. He commented:
“I am still waiting for the relevant evidence to demonstrate, even in terms of the amount of money, and years to implement this system, how much it is essential”.
In the case of the recent attacks in Brussels, Turkish authorities claimed that they gave the name of one of the bombers to the Dutch and Belgian authorities but that they failed to act on the information. According to the PNR proponents’ logic, the EU would be a safer place if the Turkish authorities had handed over the details of all 366 passengers on the plane and what they ate for dinner.
All that PNR will do is create more and more information that already under-resourced police services will have to decipher. The Belgian Judiciary and Police Commissariat has emphasised many times that it is drowning in an excess of data for which humanresources deficiencies already preclude follow-up. The Belgian Interior Minister Jan Jambon has admitted that they have “cut the police budgets way too much” and the Belgian Police Union VSOA have said that they are dealing with a 22% shortage in staff.
It is not just Belgian Police forces that are underresourced. Our own gardaí have been subject to harsh cutbacks and until recently a recruitment moratorium.
Acting Minister of Justice, Frances Fitzgerald, has said that Community Policing would be part of Ireland’s frontline defence on potential terrorism. Perhaps someone should have informed the minister that a 2015 Garda Inspectorate Report confirmed that community policing in Ireland is now practically non-existent. It would serve European policymakers better to look at their austerity agenda and how they have cut the funding legs from under vital public services such as police forces.
The EU has 90 binding legal instruments pronouncing on counter-terrorism. Yet it has never carried out an evaluation of their effectiveness. Article 52 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights requires the EU Commission to prove the necessity of any new Directive and to do so it must evaluate existing measures for their efficiency and necessity. How can they possibly prove PNR’s necessity when they have not evaluated the 90 existing binding instruments in order to identify any gaps that might exist?
While some policymakers in the European Parliament like to be seen to be doing something, even if that something is being led by corporate lobbyists, I will continue to base my voting decisions on evidence. What we should be doing is implementing initiatives that are actually proven to work. These typically comprise intelligence-led information leading to properly manned and resourced police services.
Let’s stop throwing hay onto an already very large haystack with a missing needle.