Statewatch reports that the Spanish government is now proposing a Council Directive to require all carriers into and out of the EU to give all passenger information all the time to law enforcement agencies as yet unspecified. Though no doubt the usual bogus and opportunistic arguments about fighting terrorism will be invoked, the Spanish have at least come straight out in the recital to the draft directive and said the measure is to prevent illegal immigration.
The proposal would require airlines to provide, at the time of boarding, information about passengers (passport numbers, names, date and place of birth) to the "authorities responsible for carrying out border checks", a potentially very wide bunch of agencies. Further, carriers would be obliged to report to these 'authorities' within 48 hours if any non-EU nationals who have not returned to their country of origin or gone on to a third country. This reporting obligation is so broad and logistically impossible to meet, and downright illogical, it boggles the mind. I won't even go into the practical problems with it - anyone who's ever been on a plane can see at least a half a dozen reasons why such a system would continually throw up 'false positives' in the search for illegal immigrants. And of course the idea that various agencies should get their hands on everyone's travel plans in order to try and stop some non-Europeans from absconding, makes me wonder why anyone ever bothered to put the word 'proportionate' in to the European Convention on Human Rights.
The article on how and what the carriers are expected to do is amazingly brief - smacks of legislation scribbled on the back of a napkin - but the one on sanctions for carriers who fail to comply is very long, very detailed, and very tough. It even details the minimum fines for non-compliant carriers and goes on to endorse other sanctions such as "immobilisation, seizure and confiscation of the means of transport or temporary suspension or withdrawal of the operating licence". The next article says the information will only be used for border checks and will be deleted straight after - why do I not believe a word of this? Does anyone think national law enforcement agencies and Europol won't use their familiar arguments (well, you're retaining the data already, so why don't you just hand it over to us? we're the good guys.) to pool the data and engage in fishing expeditions?
Anyway, I'm afraid outrage has been drowned out by cynicism, so just a couple of observations:
- Private companies are once more to be strong-armed into policing an unwitting public. Henry has more analysis of this phenomenon which he'll be sharing at CFP next week.
- It's curious that the two EU member states most emphatically supporting the US invasion of Iraq (i.e. UK and Spain) are also the same two who are pushing hardest for carrier passenger data to be retained. Some plausible factors here - the law and order brigade tend to go hand in hand with the hawks so it's unsurprising that a government favouring the latter is also pushing for the former. Secondly, European passenger data access is being pushed hardest by the US, so it's no surprise that the US' biggest allies in the EU are rowing in behind. Thirdly, stir in the usual opportunism - the Spanish are hoping to catch a free ride on the fact that we have to make this data available to the US, so why not use it to round up some cheeky North Africans as well.
- funny too, that the Commission's rather feeble defense of having entered a probably unlawful agreement with US customs in February was that the US threatened to stop EU carriers from flying is employed by the Spanish as their own means of coercion. This is the same threat the Spanish propose to use to enforce EU carriers within the EU.
I presume the proposal is being mooted as a Council Directive because the carriers don't fall under the Third Pillar. Otherwise we'd have seen a short, sharp shock of a Council Frameworkd Decision being imposed without any input from the Parliament or oversight of the Court of Justice. I just hope that the Parliament manages to bottle and keep some of the righteous anger expressed earlier this week and use it when/if the time comes to give its views of this draft Directive. The Parliament has been a lot of mouth and not too much mettle on personal data issues - let's hope their courage is made of something more substantial than hot air.