I thank the Chairman for allocating time today to consider these two EU motions dealing with the proposed agreement between Canada and the EU on the transfer and processing of passenger name record, PNR, data. Two motions are required because the agreement itself is the subject of two separate proposals for Council decisions. This simply reflects the EU procedure for establishing such agreements, whereby the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament are co-legislators. It requires that the Council of Ministers must first adopt a decision to sign the agreement. The agreement is then sent to the European Parliament for its consent and, if that consent is given, the Council of Ministers subsequently adopts a decision to conclude the agreement.
The motions before the committee today are necessary to enable Ireland to participate in this measure. They propose that Ireland should exercise the option provided by Protocol 21 to the treaty on the functioning of the EU - that is to say, the Lisbon treaty - to participate in the adoption and application of an EU-Canada PNR agreement. The prior approval of both Houses of the Oireachtas is required, in accordance with the provisions of Article 29.4.7 of the Constitution, to enable Ireland to exercise that option. In line with the provisions of Protocol 21 to the Lisbon treaty, Ireland has three months to signal its participation in any given measure. In the case of this proposed agreement, the State must signal its participation by 26 November.
The Government has approved the proposal of the Minister for Justice and Equality that Ireland should take part in this measure. It is our view that measures such as these are to be welcomed and deserve our support. They can provide important support to police and law enforcement authorities in the fight against transnational serious crime and terrorism.
The proposal replaces the current EU-Canada PNR agreement which was concluded in 2005 and has been in operation since then. Following the entry into force of the Lisbon treaty, the European Parliament requested a renegotiation of this and the PNR agreements then in place with the United States and Australia. Members will be aware that revised agreements with those two countries have been established and put in place, and were considered by the committee under the same Protocol 21 in advance of Ireland's participation in them. Subsequent to the European Parliament's request for a renegotiation of the agreement with Canada, the Council of Ministers authorised the European Commission to conduct negotiations on behalf of the EU. It presented a draft agreement with Canada to the Council in May of this year. It is intended to seek approval to sign the proposed agreement at the meeting of the Council of Justice and Home Affairs Ministers in December. However, the deadline for opting into the agreement remains 26 November.
The proposed agreement provides that air carriers operating flights between the EU and Canada will provide to the Canada Border Services Agency certain PNR data for passengers flying to or from Canada. PNR data comprise information relating to passengers' travel reservations that is collected and held by air carriers as part of their reservations systems. The proposed agreement will require the airlines to continue to provide a portion of this information to the Canadian authorities for the purposes of combating terrorism and serious transnational crime. In practical terms, the proposed agreement will have no new or additional impacts for EU air carriers as the PNR data is already being provided under the 2005 agreement. However, unlike that agreement, the new proposal encompasses comprehensive data protection provisions and safeguards to be built in as part of the agreement itself. Under the 2005 agreement, on the other hand, data protection measures did not form part of the agreement. Rather, they were included as a set of commitments by the Canada Border Services Agency in regard to the application of the PNR agreement.
As I said, the proposed provisions represent an important tool in the fight against serious crime and terrorism. However, I am conscious of the need to ensure the rights of citizens are not subject to unnecessary or disproportionate intrusion, notwithstanding the importance of protecting both individuals and society against harm. It is essential to strike the right balance in measures such as these, especially with regard to privacy and the protection of personal data. Accordingly, the agreement contains a number of important and specifically tailored safeguards in respect of the use of PNR data. In particular, the purpose of processing the data is strictly limited to preventing, detecting, investigating and prosecuting terrorist offences and serious transnational crimes. We can all agree that detecting terrorists, people traffickers and other serious criminals is worthy of support.
Furthermore, the agreement sets out clearly a series of provisions relating to the arrangements for the handling and security of the PNR data and for data protection.
I draw particular attention to the provisions which establish that an individual will have the right to access his or her own data, to have incorrect data corrected and to seek judicial redress, including compensation, for any violation of his or her rights under the proposed agreement.
The retention period relating to PNR data will be limited to five years in total. However, it is important to note that this data will be depersonalised by the masking out of passenger names after an initial period of only 30 days. Furthermore, the full depersonalisation of the data, that is, the masking out of all other identifying information, will take place after two years. Compliance with these rules will be subject to independent oversight by the Privacy Commissioner of Canada - the equivalent of our Data Protection Commissioner - in addition to the Recourse Directorate of the Canada Border Services Agency.
There are additional controls included in the proposed agreement to deal with the processing of sensitive data, that is, personal data revealing race, ethnicity, religious beliefs, political opinion, etc. The processing of this data is limited to very exceptional cases and subject to strict additional conditions and safeguards, including approval by the president of the Canada Border Services Agency and the deletion of the sensitive personal data after a maximum period of 15 days. The European Union is satisfied that the data protection provisions in force in Canada are sufficiently robust to protect EU citizens.
As stated, Ireland has until 26 November to decide whether to opt in to the adoption and application of the proposed agreement. This proposal is one of a number of measures being taken at EU level in the justice and home affairs field which arise 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.
A number of countries, including the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia, Canada, Sweden and Spain, have been collecting PNR data for some years in order to help tackle transnational and serious crimes and terrorism. The use of PNR data has proved to be a very valuable tool in a range of investigations, particularly those targeting drug smugglers, human trafficking and terrorists. It is, as members will appreciate, difficult to provide details of the operational methods that police and law enforcement investigators might use, particularly when dealing with sensitive investigations. However, I will give the committee a flavour of the value of PNR in contributing to investigations. For example, the UK authorities targeted and successfully prosecuted a Chinese gang of people traffickers who had been bringing illegal immigrants into that jurisdiction and Ireland through other EU states. The use of PNR data was a key tool in the investigation in identifying the people who were being trafficked and linking them with the trafficking facilitators. I have no doubt that the committee will agree that human trafficking is a particularly reprehensible crime, a serious abuse of human rights and an affront to human dignity. It is often characterised as the modern equivalent of the slave trade. It is also often linked with the sexual exploitation of women. We should never tolerate human trafficking and must use all the tools and resources at our disposal to prevent and combat it, to protect the victims and prosecute the perpetrators.
PNR data were also used by investigators in the case of David Headley who was convicted for his involvement in the atrocious terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India, in November 2008, in which 164 innocent people lost their lives. By using details of the suspect’s first name, his partial travel itinerary and a possible travel window and entering this intelligence into the PNR database, David Headley’s full name, address and passport number were obtained. He was subsequently arrested and pleaded guilty to terrorism-related charges.
We can be in no doubt either about the pernicious nature of the international drugs trade. The supply and use of illegal drugs have a profound destructive impact on individuals' lives, as well as on entire communities. Drug trafficking is a highly lucrative internationalised crime that has a very local impact. As public representatives, we have all witnessed the impact of drugs in communities throughout the country. We must seek to ensure that those who are working to disrupt this criminal activity can take advantage of the relevant tools such as PNR to put the people involved out of business. Members will also be conscious of the potential value to police services of PNR data in contributing to the investigation of people who travel to overseas locations, often in the Far East, in order to have sex with under-age children. This is a particularly depraved form of "tourism" and we can be very sure the victims are not willing participants in what is an organised trade.
Given the potential law enforcement value of PNR data, particularly with regard to investigations into drug smuggling, human trafficking and international terrorism, the Government has no doubt that it is important that Ireland should opt-in in to the proposed agreement. Our participation in the measure is also a clear demonstration of our continued support and solidarity with our EU and international partners in the fight against these transnational criminal activities.
I have great pleasure in commending the motions to the committee.