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EU-Australia PNR Agreement

Volume 532: debated on Monday 5 September 2011

The coalition Government are firmly committed to protecting the security of their 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 continue to press for an EU PNR directive that includes provision for intra EU flights. The Government also believe 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 have 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. These can be found at the following links:

Council decision to sign: 0280:FIN:EN:PDF.

Council decision to conclude:

The Government will continue to work with the Scrutiny Committees when they consider 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.