The motion before the House proposes that Ireland should exercise the option, set out in Article 3 of Protocol 21 to the Treaty of the Functioning of the European Union, to participate in the adoption and application of an EU directive of the European Parliament and the Council on the use of certain air travel reservation data — passenger name record, PNR, data — in the fight against terrorism and serious crime. I firmly believe that Ireland should opt in to this proposal. Any measure that can give the Garda Síochána and its EU counterparts an advantage in the fight against terrorism and other serious criminal activities is to be welcomed and deserves support. We must recognise that the ever increasing openness of our borders cannot be allowed to work to the benefit of terrorists and criminal gangs. We must make use of the opportunities that information sharing presents for our police to maximise the security of EU citizens.
This measure is among a number being taken at EU level arising from commitments set out in the 2009 Stockholm programme. The Government is determined that Ireland will have a full, active and constructive engagement in bringing forward the European justice agenda. This proposal replaces an earlier one that was not finalised before the entry into force of the Lisbon treaty arrangements. The current proposal is made under those new arrangements, which involve the European Parliament as co-legislator. There is general support among the member states for this proposal and Ireland has indicated support in principle for the measure.
The directive proposes that passenger name record data concerning flights in and out of the EU will be available to national authorities for combating terrorism and serious crime. Passenger name record data are information relating to passengers' reservations that is collected and held by air carriers. The directive will require the airlines to provide a portion of this information for the relevant member state's law enforcement authorities. Passenger name record data are already provided by airlines on flights between the EU and the United States, Canada and Australia, including flights from Ireland. It hardly seems credible that EU member states would provide this information for third countries but neglect to avail of the advantages it will afford us in tackling terrorism and serious crime. The UK, Swedish and Spanish authorities have been routinely collecting passenger name record data for some years now and it has proved to be a very valuable tool in a range of investigations targeting drug smugglers, human trafficking rings and terrorists.
I will give the House some practical examples of how passenger name record can be used by law enforcement authorities. In the first example, passenger name record data were used by the UK authorities in the case of Mr. David Headley, the terrorist facilitator convicted of involvement in the atrocious terrorist attacks in Mumbai in November 2008. Let us not forget that 164 innocent people lost their lives in that attack. By using details of the suspect's first name, his partial travel itinerary and a vague travel window, and entering this intelligence into the passenger name record database, Mr. David Headley's full name, address and passport number was obtained and he was arrested. He subsequently pleaded guilty to terrorism-related charges.
Passenger name record data have also been used in a number of significant transnational organised crime cases. The UK authorities targeted and successfully prosecuted a Chinese criminal gang of human traffickers bringing illegal immigrants to the UK and Ireland, through other EU member states. Without the use of passenger name record the investigation would have taken substantially longer to identify the passengers and link them to the trafficking facilitators.
It is clear that there are tangible results that can be achieved by the use of passenger name record data. However, access to this data under the proposed directive is not unrestricted or unencumbered. Under this proposed directive the use of passenger name record data is restricted by a clear purpose limitation. The data collected and processed may only be used for the prevention, detection, investigation and prosecution of terrorist offences and serious crime. The offences involved are those already established in European and national law under the framework decisions on combating terrorism and on the European arrest warrant. The offences in question include terrorism, human trafficking, drug trafficking, the sexual exploitation of children, and serious offences such as murder and rape.
The directive will require airlines operating flights into and out of the EU, which are departing from or arriving in Ireland, to send the specified passenger name record data from their reservations system to the Irish authority tasked with their analysis. Airlines operating international flights departing from or arriving in other EU member states will be obliged to transfer passenger name record data to the relevant authorities of those member states. The current draft proposal is limited to flights between the EU and third countries. However, there is significant support to include flights between EU member states in the scope of the directive. This is a matter that will be considered as the discussions on the directive proceed.
I discussed the proposal with my EU colleagues at last week's meeting of justice and home affairs Ministers in Luxembourg. I made clear Ireland's general support for the measure as an important potential tool for countering the activities of organised criminals and terrorists, and for improving security in the EU. I also indicated Ireland's support for the inclusion of intra-EU flights in the scope of the measure, an approach that was supported by the majority of other member states around the table. The exact form in which internal EU flights may be included will have to be worked out in the course of the negotiations in the coming months.
Airlines will be obliged to transfer the specified passenger name record data held in their reservation systems to the authorities of the relevant EU member state. Under the current proposal there are 19 fields of information which may be transferred, including the name, address and contact information of passengers, travel itineraries and payment methods. It also includes information on the travel agent, seat number, airline code share information and baggage information.
For the most part, these data are already collected by the airlines and the proposal does not oblige them to collect any additional data. The extent of any costs falling to airlines in providing the data will vary depending on the size and scope of their operations. However, these costs are justified by the value to national and European security achieved by participating in such a measure.
Each member state will be obliged to establish a national unit to receive and process the data provided by airlines under the proposed scheme. The European Commission has indicated that EU funding is to be made available for some of the start-up costs for member states. Once established, member states will have the right to request the passenger name record data and, if necessary, the results of the processing of such data, from other member states. This is an obvious aspect of the form of EU co-operation between member states. Sharing of findings is essential to ensure that EU boundaries are not a barrier to effective action against terrorists or criminal groups. Such requests and sharing of information will be subject to strict data protection measures, which are always a matter requiring particular attention with regard to information-sharing measures such as this.
This measure is an important tool in the fight against terrorism and serious crime and I have cited several examples. However, we must always be careful to ensure that the rights of citizens are not subjected to unnecessary or disproportionate intrusion. It is essential to strike the appropriate balance, especially with regard to the protection of personal data.
The passenger name record data will be used in several ways to enhance security and prevent or detect crime. It may be used reactively following the commission of a crime to assist with investigations. However, it may also be used proactively for the purposes of trend analysis and creating assessment criteria to identify potential threats. The data may also be analysed in real time to prevent the commission of terrorist or criminal offences. The period for which the data can be retained under the directive is accordingly strictly circumscribed. In contrast to the 2007 proposal in this area, this proposal sets out much shorter data retention periods. The directive provides that data will be stored for an initial 30 day active period. Thereafter, it will be anonymised and retained in an inactive database for a further five year period. During this five year period, the data will only be accessible by a limited number of personnel in the national unit and for a specified purpose.
Under Article 3 of Protocol 21 to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, Ireland has three months from the date a proposal is presented to the Council to decide whether to opt in to the adoption and application of the proposal. The prior approval of both Houses of the Oireachtas in accordance with Article 29.4.7° of the Constitution is required to enable the Government to exercise that option. The deadline for opting in is 10 May 2011. Yesterday the Dáil voted in favour of opting in.
Given the potential value to law enforcement services of passenger name record data, particularly with regard to investigations into drug smuggling, human trafficking or international terrorism, given the important sensitive issues of the protection of personal data and given that the proposal will have some implications for the aviation industry, I am convinced that it is essential that Ireland should opt in to the negotiations to participate fully in those negotiations and to be in a position to seek to influence the outcome. I have no doubt the majority of Members in the Seanad share this view and I commend the motion to the House.