Use of Flight Passenger Data

The EU plans to store information about air travellers, such as name and credit card details, in order to support the fight against international terrorism.

How did we get here?

So-called Passenger Name Records, or PNR, include a flight passenger’s name, address, phone number, travel dates and credit card details, and are collected by airlines for flights entering or leaving the EU. Such data has been used for almost 60 years by customs and law enforcement authorities around the world. Yet, only recently - and fostered through the attacks in the US in 2001 -  has technological development allowed for actual electronic transmission of the data. However, PNR data is not currently regulated at EU level and the European Commission saw a necessity to harmonise Member States’ existing rules.


Why is this important for me?

Because it could contribute to your protection. The main purpose of this initiative is the fight against terrorism and other serious international crime. It shall be avoided that terrorists use commercial airplanes for their attacks. Yet, it is difficult to assess if PNR collection is actually an effective way to stop terrorists since authorities cannot really cite any concrete examples of how PNR may have helped to combat particular threats.


What's the content?

According to the proposal published by Cecilia Malmström, former European Commissioner for Home Affairs, the purpose of transmitting the PNR data is strictly limited to preventing, detecting, investigating and prosecuting terrorist actions and other serious acts of crime. It only concerns flights between a third country and the EU. The proposal does not ask airlines to collect any additional information from passengers, nor does it require passengers to provide any additional data to that already being provided to airlines. The full list of information provided can be found in the proposal's annex (p.32), but among others they include:

Each Member State has to set up a competent authority responsible for collecting PNR data from airlines, storing them, analysing them and transmitting the result of the analysis to the competent terrorism/crime fighting authorities. Airlines will have to transfer PNR data 24 to 48 hours before a flight and immediately after flight closure, that is once the passengers have boarded the aircraft in preparation for departure and it is no longer possible for further passengers to board the plane. It is also possible that Member States share PNR data with a third country.

The deal the institutions agreed on in the end included some compromises. The data would be accessible for up to four years in cases involving serious trans-national crimes and five years for terrorism cases. The data shall be masked 6 months after it is recorded, so that no one could see passenger names without authorisation. 


What's happening with this legislation in the future?

The European Commission's draft proposal was already rejected once by the LIBE Committee in April 2013. MEPs voting against it questioned the necessity and proportionality of the proposed EU scheme. In June 2013, the Parliament decided to refer the matter back to the Committee. It voted on the report in July 2015 and decided to open three-way negotiations between the Parliament, the Council  and the Commission in order to find an agreement.

The negotiations with Member States were difficult since there are different opinions on two particular aspects: whether it should also be possible to store the data of passengers on flights within the EU and on how long the unmasekd data should actually be kept. But they got a deal: the institutions agree on storing the unmasked data for six months and Member States can extend the rules to “intra-EU” flights, provided that they notify the EU Commission. The Parliament and Council formally confirmed this deal by a vote in April 2016.


Related Bills:

Updated European data protection laws

Enforceable Flight Rights for Air Passengers

Creating a European Border and Coast Guard

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