Written statement to Parliament

The UK’s opt-in to Council Decision to sign and conclude the EU-Australia PNR Agreement

This written ministerial statement was laid in the House of Commons by Damian Green and House of Lords by Baroness Browning, on 5 September…

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

The Rt Hon Damian Green MP

This written ministerial statement was laid in the House of Commons by Damian Green, and in the House of Lords by Baroness Browning, on 5 September 2011.

The Minister of State for Immigration (Damian Green): The Coalition Government is firmly committed to protecting the security of its citizens and to defending their civil liberties. Our experience is that both security and privacy are possible. We must resist trading one off against the other as some would wish us to do.

We are firmly committed to consistency in our approach to civil liberties and will seek to translate our domestic agenda to the EU level - this includes purpose limitation; rigorous evidence based arguments; the principles of necessity and proportionality; stringent data protection safeguards, especially when handling sensitive personal data; independent data protection oversight; and, of course, full compliance with EU law and the EU Treaties.

The UK, in common with many other EU Member States and third countries, places considerable value on the collection and analysis of Passenger Name Record (PNR) data (that data collected by carriers in the exercise of their business) for the purpose of preventing terrorism and serious crime. The appropriate use of PNR data is vital in keeping the public safe.

In line with this view, the Government continues to press for an EU PNR Directive that includes provision for intra EU flights. The Government also believes that clear PNR agreements between the EU and third countries play a vital role in removing legal uncertainty for air carriers flying to those countries, and help ensure that PNR information can be shared quickly and securely, with all necessary data protection safeguards in place.

This Agreement replaces the EU-Australia PNR Agreement which has been applied provisionally from June 2008. The European Parliament postponed its vote on that Agreement and asked the Commission to come forward with a single model for international agreements before it took a final vote. On 21 September 2010 the European Commission published a Communication on the global approach to transfers of PNR Data to third countries, together with a package of draft negotiating mandates for PNR agreements with Australia, Canada and the United States. In response to this, the Council presented a draft Council Decision to authorise the Commission to open negotiations for PNR Agreements with Australia, Canada and the US, together with draft negotiating guidelines (collectively referred to as the Negotiating Mandates).

The UK opted into these Negotiating Mandates in December 2010 and announced this decision to Parliament on 20 December 2010.

We fully recognise the importance of working with partners outside the EU given that the threats we face are global in nature and, in common with other EU Member States, we view Australia as a key partner.
I wish to bring to Parliament’s attention that, after due consideration of civil liberty, data protection and security issues, the Government has decided to opt in to the Council Decisions to Sign and Conclude the EU-Australia PNR Agreement.

In particular, the Agreement;

  • Restricts the purposes for which data can be processed to the prevention of and combating of terrorist offences and serious transnational crime
  • Makes express provision for data security
  • Restricts the period for which data may be retained to five and a half years, with data being masked after three years unless it is required for an ongoing investigation
  • Provides that the masking mechanism shall be reviewed one year after entry into force and suggests archiving as an alternative method of restricting access if masking does not prove to be efficient or cost effective
  • Prohibits the use of sensitive personal data and mandates the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service to delete any such data it may receive from carriers
  • Provides for the oversight of the Australian Information Commissioner
  • Sets out rights of access, rectification and erasure and redress
  • Contains specific provisions about data retention, including who may have access to the data throughout the retention periods
  • Regulates the transfer of PNR data to other Australian government authorities
  • Only permits onward data transmission to a third country on a case by case basis and for the purposes outlined above. The data may not be transmitted further without the permission of the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service.

The Council Decisions to Sign and Conclude the Agreement were deposited on 23 May:

The government will continue to work with the Scrutiny Committees when it considers whether to opt in to Council Decisions to sign and conclude the US and Canada PNR Agreements once these Agreements are published, and will of course update Parliament on the Government’s opt-in decisions.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Date: Mon Sep 05 11:45:00 BST 2011

Published 5 September 2011