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Flying somewhere? The EU wants to add you to a giant database of passenger details

This time it may actually happen, and it all sounds a little sinister

Image: Shutterstock/Krasimira Nevenova

MOST PEOPLE WOULDN’T be overly familiar with what a PNR is.

Essentially, a Passenger Name Record is the detail of all data involved in the booking of a passenger flight which most airlines share with each other, ostensibly should a passenger need to book connecting flights or a hotel with a separate carrier.

So the kind of data involved would range from names and email addresses to IP addresses, religion, credit card details, habits etc.  Once a reservation is created, a permanent PNR exists.  If you haven’t seen one before, it’s a little disconcerting:

Hasbrouck What a typical PNR looks like Source: The Practical Nomad

In the wake of January’s Charlie Hebdo terrorist attacks in Paris there is a renewed clamor in the halls of the EU for increased security measures to prevent further attacks.

The most immediate reaction has been in the form of a draft report regarding an EU-wide PNR.

Legislation regarding such a record was defeated at the EU’s Civil Liberties Committee in 2013 due to the dubious nature of its handling of data protection and privacy law, but the report on a potential new record will be presented to the European Parliament by Timothy Kirkhope before the end of February.

Kirkhope Timothy Kirkhope Source: kirkhope.org.uk

Kirkhope has described the EU PNR as very important when dealing not only with recent events like the terrible terrorism attacks in Paris, but also of course with major criminality.”

 I don’t claim that it is the only measure we need to protect ourselves, but it is a very useful one.  We’re not looking at profiling here, we’re just looking for patterns that could indicate criminality.

Source: European Parliament/YouTube

Should all things go to plan for the British MEP and his fellow agitators legislation could be enacted on the EU PNR before the end of 2015.

Non-state PNRs are supported by airlines worldwide, but the most infamous is probably the state-sanctioned record in the US (American travel-writer and freedom-of-information blogger Edward Hasbrouck details issues regarding American PNRs on his website The Practical Nomad).

TheJournal.ie spoke to TJ McIntyre, lawyer with online privacy campaigners Digital Rights Ireland, about what the establishment of an EU PNR will mean for us.  What he had to say is a little worrying.

“A lot of them already exist, but just because you’re already doing bad things doesn’t mean you should do more, it’s just so open to abuse,” he says.

The American PNR has effectively turned into a no-fly list, with the likes of the FBI using it coerce American Muslims to become informers for example.
In the EU there’s absolutely no doubt that it would be used in the same way.  We already have state intelligence agencies hacking travel agents and hotel bookings, this will just legitimise that further.

Mcintyre TJ McIntyre of Digital Rights Ireland Source: Sam Boal/Photocall

McIntyre is likewise quite cynical about the timing of the calls for legislation, seeing it as “opportunism at the highest level”.

It’s absurd really, for each terrorist incident in the last 15 years the perpetrators have invariably already been on the authorities’ radar.
You can’t complain about a lack of resources for intelligence services and then create a behemoth like this. You don’t search for a needle in a haystack by making the haystack bigger.
It all does sound a little shady. PNR’s can be used to track where you’re going, who you’re going with, who’s paying for the trip, what sort of accommodation you use, your employment status and structure, and even information protected by lawyer-client privilege and journalistic sources.

“Not only that, but the whole thing is on very shaky ground legally,” agrees McIntyre.

Leaked EU parliamentary advice in recent times has put PNR systems very much under question.  They’re fundamentally dubious from the point of view of the law.

Despite his concerns however, McIntyre is far from convinced that an EU PNR is an inevitablity.

Well the EU has recognised the significance of all this in the past.  They’re very capable of holding off, and hopefully they will.

This could get very interesting.

Read: NSA sharing data with British spies was illegal… but it’s not going to stop

Read: Here’s how you can make your internet experience that little bit safer

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