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The Greens in the European Parliament have fresh ammunition for their fight against adoption of the new PNR (passenger name record) agreement on the transfer of data on European passengers to the United States. A university study slams the text, speaking of "excessively long retention periods," "lack of protection" and "very few improvements over earlier agreements". As part of their campaign against the accord, the Greens presented the study, on 14 March, outside the EP plenary session in Strasbourg. The PNR has already been negotiated by the European Commission and signed by the 27, but is still awaiting validation by MEPs in April.

Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom has warned that the new version of the agreement, set to replace a 2007 text, will not be renegotiated with Washington, because it was the Europeans who demanded an agreement. Several groups, among them the Greens, are standing their ground all the same. With Dutch Liberal rapporteur Sophia in 't Veld, they call for rejection of the agreement. "In political terms, this agreement puts out the wrong signals. We will continue to transfer data instead of conducting more effective investigations," said Jan Philipp Albrecht (Greens-EFA, Germany).

According to the study, the price of EP rejection is not that high: "The pre-agreement legal situation would apply," ie prior to the signature of the first EU-US agreement in 2004. "Airlines would find themselves in a complex situation, in breach of either American law or European law, but such legal conflicts exist in other areas," noted one of the authors, Franziska Boehm. European passengers would admittedly lose safety nets, "but in any case these rules provide only limited protection," she added.

"Legitimising low standards is not advisable," observed Albrecht. The EP failed to obtain satisfaction, for instance, on a clear prohibition of profiling.

The study's criticisms include use of passenger name records for purposes other than counter-terrorism (border control, use by a court if necessary, other violations of laws), overly long or even indefinite data retention periods (up to ten years for serious cross-border crime and 15 years for terrorism), easier transfer to third countries, more limited protection of sensitive data (such as religious beliefs or political convictions) and the absence of a guaranteed right of appeal by Europeans in the United States.

The EP is still divided, with the EPP Conservatives backing the text and the Greens, Liberals and radical left opposed. "But even if it were adopted, the agreement may be rejected by European or national courts," concluded Albrecht, who mentioned doubts of a constitutional nature, notably in Germany.


Among the advances foreseen under the new agreement:

- Precise list of grounds for use of data, as compared with a very broad provision previously ("Any use required by US law")

- Masking of data six months after receipt by the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS), then inclusion in a dormant database with strict access conditions after five years (as opposed to seven previously)

- Retention period of up to ten years for serious cross-border crime and 15 years for terrorism

- Right to correct data and right of appeal reserved previously to US citizens and residents

- Transmission to third countries on case-by-case basis

- Deletion of sensitive data after 30 days with use subject to approval by a senior US official

- Transmission by DHS of its PNR data analyses under the agreement, on request, to its European counterparts; right of access for Europol and Eurojust.
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Publication:European Report
Geographic Code:4E
Date:Mar 15, 2012

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