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Ministers urge passenger data sharing

January 11, 2015

EU interior ministers meeting in Paris have backed calls for air passenger data to be shared among EU states in the wake of the terror attacks in France. The US plans to host a security summit next month.

German passport and other travel documents lying on world map. Photo: Robert B. Fishman +++(c) dpa - Report+++
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve on Sunday reiterated a call for the European sharing of airline passenger data which was backed last Friday by the new Polish EU president Donald Tusk, shortly after terror attacks in France.

Cazeneuve said the dozen EU, US and Canadian ministers who met Sunday at Paris's Elysee Palace, including Germany's interior minister Thomas de Maiziere, also called for a strengthening of controls at the EU's external borders - while respecting fundamental rights, to trace extremists returning to Europe from the Middle East.

Thomas de Maiziere and Bernard Cazeneuve
Cazeneuve (r.) and Maiziere both back data sharingImage: Alexandre/AFP/Getty Images

The European Commission, the 28-nation bloc's executive arm, has promoted the passenger data sharing measure, but the European Parliament's Civil Liberties Committee has blocked it in the past over privacy concerns.

The so-called Passenger Name Record (PNR) system would allow police and intelligence agencies in EU member nations to have shared access to several years of passenger data in a bid to trace would-be militants.

It would go beyond existing arrangements. Airlines based in the EU already share PNR data with security forces in Canada, Australia and the United States, including names, addresses and credit card numbers.

Data 'hour has struck,' says de Maiziere

Germany's de Maiziere said Europe was not starting from scratch in its battle against jihadism and the task was to "accelerate" existing measures, especially information sharing between intelligence services within the EU.

"Whoever still rejects a European passenger data agreement doesn't know that the hour has struck," de Maiziere said.

Internet firms urged to cooperate

Cazeneuve said ministers at Sunday's Paris meeting also concluded that it was "essential" for Internet companies to cooperate in tackling terrorism.

"We forcefully noted the need for greater cooperation with Internet companies to guarantee the reporting and removal of illegal content, particularly content that makes apologies for terrorism or promotes violence or hate," Cazeneuve said.

Tusk urges EU parliament to drop objections

On Friday, in the wake of the terrorist attack on Paris' satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, Tusk said he would press European parliamentarians to drop their past objections to EU nations sharing airline passenger data.

"Next week in Strasbourg I will appeal to the European Parliament to speed up work on the EU Passenger Name Record system, which can help in detecting the travel of dangerous people," Tusk said.

EU parliamentarian demands proof

Liberal Dutch EU parliamentarian Sophie Ind't Veldt said: "I'm not categorically opposed to data collection for security purposes, but I ask for parliament to be given proof of the need to collect data on all passengers."

Tusk had said on Friday that he would also push the data sharing issue at a February 12 meeting of EU leaders.

Security summit in February

US Attorney General Eric Holder, who like Canada's Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney also attended Sunday's talks, said afterwards that US President Barack Obama would invite allies to a security summit in Washington on February 18.

"We will bring together all of our allies to discuss ways in which we can counteract this violent extremism that exists around the world," Holder told reporters.

The aim was to "pool resources," Holder said.

The Paris talks included ministers from Austria, Belgium, Britain, Denmark, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain and Sweden.

Spanish Interior Minister Jorge Fernandez told the El Pais newspaper ahead of Sunday's Paris talks that Spain wanted the EU's Schengen treaty on free movement to be modified so that border controls could be restored to intercept extremists.