MEPs battle it out over controversial agreement to transfer air passenger data to the US 

MEPs will have to decide whether to approve the agreement on the transfer of air passenger data ©Belga/AFP  

MEPs approved on 19 April 2012 the controversial EU-US agreement on the use and transfer of Passenger Name Record (PNR) data to the US Department of Homeland Security. Although the data can be used to fight terrorism, critics fear their use will affect people's civil rights. The EP's civil liberties committee recommended approval, but a significant minority of MEPs voted against. We asked two MEPs on opposite sides of the issue why they feel so strongly about it.

Underneath the MEPs' arguments you will find a list of the information covered by PNR data.

In favour: British Conservative Timothy Kirkhope

We have negotiated a very strong agreement with our transatlantic partners, which will see very specific pieces of information transferred under tight conditions with strong independent oversight.

The value of PNR data should not be underestimated. For instance, PNR data in the UK was used in the investigation of the 7/7 bombings and in capturing the Mumbai attackers. It has led to the capture of dozens of murderers, paedophiles, rapists and drug traffickers .

I do not believe that the USA wants to store this information for the sake of some Orwellian plot. It uses it to ensure security against terrorism and serious crime. Given that the scale of this threat can never be underestimated particularly post 9-11, the response from the European Parliament must also match the current challenges posed.

However, it is also significant that we have made sure that this agreement will only be used to prevent, detect and prosecute serious trans-national crimes and terrorism, with passengers given both the security that their data is being protected, and the rights of access, correction, redress and information over how their information could be used. Sensitive data (such as meal preference) will be used in only very exceptional circumstances and depersonalised after six months.

The European Parliament can continue to sit on the fence and withhold support from this agreement, as the rapporteur seems to wish; or it can accept that we have in fact secured a very strong deal which will protect both lives and essential liberties. I hope we choose the latter course.

Against: Dutch Liberal-Democrat Sophie in 't Veld

The EU-US PNR agreement does not meet the criteria set by the European Parliament in its 2010 resolutions and it is not in line with EU legislation.  The main objections against the agreement for me as rapporteur are that the use of PNR data is not limited to the fight against terrorism and serious transnational crime, but that the data can be used for a wide range of other vague and unspecified purposes, such as immigration and border controls. I also object to the storage of data for an indefinite period, albeit anonymised. The possible use of sensitive data, such as medical data, religion or sex life, is another contentious issue. US authorities will also keep the possibility to log into the European computer systems to "pull" PNR data. The concerns are not imaginary. Several legal experts, as well as the Art 29 working group and the EDPS consider the agreement to be inadequate.

Some people mistakenly believe that by rejecting the agreement, the data can no longer be used to fight terrorism or crime. That is not the case: data will continue to flow. The European Parliament and I as a rapporteur explicitly support the use of PNR data for the fight against terrorism and serious transnational crime. However, the European Parliament cannot credibly endorse an agreement that is not in line with EU privacy and data protection laws and principles, leaves the European citizens without adequate protection and creates a precedent that should not be underestimated given the growing number of countries requiring the transfer of PNR data.

What information is covered by the Passenger Name Record (PNR) agreement between the US and the EU?

1. PNR record locator code

2. Date of reservation/issue of ticket

3. Date(s) of intended travel

4. Name(s)

5. Available frequent flier and benefit information (i.e. free tickets, upgrades, etc.)

6. Other names on PNR, including number of travellers on PNR

7. All available contact information (including originator information)

8. All available payment/billing information (not including other transaction details linked to a credit card or account and not connected to the travel transaction)

9. Travel itinerary for specific PNR

10. Travel agency/travel agent

11. Code share information

12. Split/divided information

13. Travel status of passenger (including confirmations and check-in status)

14. Ticketing information, including ticket number, one way tickets and Automated Ticket Fare Quote (i.e. ticket price)

15. All baggage information

16. Seat information, including seat number

17. General remarks including Optional Services Instruction (OSI), Special Services Information (SSI) and Special Service Request (SSR) (e.g. unaccompanied minors, elderly passengers requiring assistance, meal choice, seating request or health information needed for assistance)

18. Any collected Advanced Passenger Information System (APIS) information (a 'passenger manifest' mentioning name, nationality, passport number, date of birth, etc)

19. All historical changes to the PNR listed under points 1 to 18