Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

September 13, 2006

US-EU PNR debate moves forward

Filed under: Aviation Security,International HLS — by Christian Beckner on September 13, 2006

Recent stories in USA Today and CIO Magazine survey the status of the dispute between the United States and the European Union over the sharing of Passenger Name Record (PNR) data. The prior US-EU agreement was struck down by the European Court of Justice in May, prompting the two parties to move forward to develop a new agreement.

The urgency of this process was heightened by the UK aviation plot, which led to emergency measures to expand information-sharing. And it has strengthened DHS’s public stance on this issue, as witnessed by Sec. Chertoff’s recent comments and the statements in the USA Today article:

Homeland Security officials are hoping to renegotiate their agreement with the EU, which expires at the end of the month under a legal snag, in talks that have been given a tailwind by the London plot.

Foremost, Chertoff wants to be able to share the passenger information with the U.S. intelligence agencies and retain it for significantly longer than 42 months.

The intelligence community’s free access to the travel data would act as an additional layer of security over the Visa Waiver program, which now suffers from troubling holes. That 20-year-old program allows passport-toting citizens of 27 U.S.-friendly nations, including England, to enter the United States without a visa or the accompanying interview by a U.S. consular official.

Given the recent revelations about secret intelligence programs for communications and finance, I’m not surprised that Europeans are concerned about allowing unfettered access to data on their citizens. Ultimately, I believe that the European governments will support these measures, based on their direct experiences with the international terrorist threat.

But what’s really needed is a new model. For too long, this debate over PNR information-sharing has been driven by a model where information moves one way, from Europe to the United States. But what about flights from the United States to Europe? And what about broader international travel? If we want to develop a sustainable information-sharing system for international travel, then we need a model that is multipolar and decentralized, facilitating the broad exchange of information, in a manner similar to Interpol’s systems for sharing information on wanted fugitives and lost and stolen passports. This would give all nations, not just the United States, a stake on this issue, and by doing so ultimately strengthen American security.

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