EU close to sealing foreign fighter tracking deal

AP News
Posted: Dec 03, 2015 5:39 AM

BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union is on the brink of clinching a deal on sharing airline passenger information which security experts consider vital to stop extremists traveling to and from the Mideast.

Officials say one issue is blocking a deal — whether all information about air travelers can be stored for six months as EU lawmakers want, or nine months as France demands.

EU interior ministers are set to discuss the so-called passenger name record agreement on Friday, after experts narrowed differences between security concerns and privacy rights in talks overnight on Wednesday.

It means that a deal could be sealed this month or in January, bringing to an end a process that began eight years ago.

The attacks on a satirical newspaper and kosher supermarket in Paris in January underscored the advantages of a deal, but the Nov. 13 massacres in the French capital were the real spur to concluding one.

At least 5,000 Europeans are believed to have trained or fought in Syria and Iraq but authorities are struggling to track their movements and prove their activities.

The agreement would give law enforcement agencies in the 28 EU nations access to information gathered by airlines, including names, travel dates, itinerary, credit card and contact details.

In a move that has proved controversial, data could be available for flights within EU nations as well as from European carriers leaving or arriving in the bloc.

The EU already has PNR deals with the U.S., Canada and Australia, but member countries have been unable to agree one among themselves which strikes the right balance between security and people's privacy rights.

In frustration at the slow pace of talks, some nations have moved ahead with their own PNRs but such a series of incompatible systems could leave loopholes for foreign fighters to exploit.

"An EU PNR system with robust protections for personal data is far preferable to 28 EU PNR systems and a patchwork of regimes. We are almost there on a deal," said Timothy Kirkhope, the lead EU lawmaker chaperoning the deal through the European Parliament, where it has languished for more than two years.