German Ministers at Odds Over EU Passenger Data Plan | Europe | News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 29.01.2008

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German Ministers at Odds Over EU Passenger Data Plan

The European Commission's plans to collect data on air travelers landing in the European Union have been attacked by Germany's justice minister who warned that the measures would damage civil liberties.

A passenger at check-in at a London airport

Passengers will be required to give 19 different types of data which will be stored

"Airlines are going to give the police personal data of people who have never been under suspicion," German Justice Minister Brigitte Zypries said in a speech to the European Police Congress in Berlin on Tuesday, Jan. 29. "Why is there a need to collect the data of all passengers when the data of suspects is already known to the police?"

Zypries added that the EU Commission's plan was a misguided attempt to replace human intuition with technology in the fight against crime and she questioned whether all the details would actually be useful in fighting crime.

European Justice Commissioner Franco Frattini, a strong supporter of the plan, responded by saying that technology could play a crucial role in combating terrorism and organized crime.

"We have to rely on the resources of human beings, but technology can give us a big advantage," he said.

Data collection based on US system

German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, left, and German Justice Minister Brigitte Zypries

Zypries, right, has taken a different stance to Schäuble

The proposals, which would require European air travelers to surrender 19 categories of data about themselves, including e-mail addresses, telephone numbers and credit card details, were backed by interior ministers from EU countries including Germany last week as part of new anti-terror measures.

The European Passenger Name Record (PNR) plan is based on a similar system the EU agreed with the United States last year which comes into operation early next year. Just as in the US scheme, the information supplied would be kept for 15 years and would be shared with law enforcement agencies.

Such a register allowing for long-term retention and access to personal data "is incompatible with the German constitution," Zypries told the congress. "I worry that this will be a further step towards a preventionist state, that is already monitoring and policing citizens without prior cause."

Frattini promised that access to the stored data would be restricted and that no sensitive information about political or religious beliefs would be divulged.

Schäuble reiterates support for plan

Passengers at Leipzig Airport

Data from the system will be stored for upto 15 years

The proposed European system would affect both EU citizens and foreigners when they enter the bloc, but it would provide a new layer of controls on non-Europeans, who would also give information via their visas and an entry-exit register being planned.

German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble played down Zypries' opposition and said he expected the passenger data plan to be approved in Berlin.

"The commission's proposal is very similar to the agreement between the EU and the United States, and that was signed off by the lower and upper houses of the German parliament," he said at the meeting of European police.

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