WASHINGTON – The Chairmen and Ranking Members of the Senate and House homeland security committees have introduced resolutions in their respective chambers to stress the value of using information about air travelers to deprive terrorists the ability to enter the United States.
The move by Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter T. King, R-N.Y., Senate Committee Ranking Member Susan Collins, R-Me., and House Ranking Member Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., signaled strong disapproval of European Union (EU) efforts to reopen negotiations on an agreement signed by the EU and the U.S. in 2007 to share passenger name record (PNR) data. The agreement was intended to remain in effect until 2014.
Since 2007, PNR data has been used to screen international travel and was instrumental in numerous terrorism investigations, contributing to the arrests of Faisal Shahzad, the Times Square bomber, and David Headley, a planner of the Mumbai attack.
Lieberman said: “The thwarted Christmas Day attack in 2009 and attempts to place bombs in airplane cargo holds last year demonstrate that terrorists are still intent on using airplanes as weapons against us. Sharing passenger information is an effective way to keep known terrorists off airplanes and has contributed to the arrests of at least two terrorists since the current agreement with the EU was signed. We should accept no changes to the agreement that could limit our ability to identify and arrest terrorists or potential terrorists in the future.”
King said: “This is a national security priority. PNR data has been a successful tool in our layered approach in combating terrorism and crime. Weakening this tool could have grave consequences on the security of both the United States and Europe. The 9/11 Commission identified the targeting of terrorist travel as one of the most powerful weapons against terrorists. The need to collect passenger travel data has for nearly a decade received bipartisan support from Congress and has served as a cornerstone in both the Bush and Obama Administrations for interdicting terrorists.”
Collins said: “Passenger Name Record data is an important tool in the fight against terrorism as it assists security personnel in identifying possible threats, before they arrive in our country. This sharing of passenger information from inbound international flights is a crucial component of our layered approach to homeland security.
“This resolution recognizes the key role that PNR data have played in disrupting terrorist travel and in terrorism investigations, including their use to identify and arrest Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad and David Headley, coconspirator of the 2008 Mumbai Terrorist attack. I urge the Department of Homeland Security and the European Union to continue to use the PNR data agreement in place, as previously negotiated and in effect until July 2014, to identify and thwart those seeking to do our country harm.”
Thompson said: “With the ten year anniversary of the September 11th attacks upon us, it is critical that we recognize the strides that have been made to prevent terrorists from traveling into the United States. Certainly, the sharing of passenger name record data between the U.S. and E.U., as well as the stringent privacy and oversight protection in the 2007 agreement, has made the nation more secure. Those who question the value of the 2007 agreement need only to look at the interdictions and thwarted potential attacks that have resulted. The resolution is intended to underscore the need to rededicate ourselves to information sharing and redoubling efforts to thwart terrorist travel.”
The Aviation and Transportation Security Act of 2001 required that airlines provide PNR information on all flights. PNR data is used by Customs and Border Protection (CPB) to pre-screen international flights starting 72 hours before they are scheduled to depart. Data collected from the airlines’ PNR systems are compared to terrorist watch lists and criminal and immigration databases to make sure known terrorists do not board airplanes bound for the U.S., and have been used in numerous terrorism investigations.
In September of 2010, the European Commission (EC) said its PNR agreements in the future would include restrictions on the means and frequency of data sharing, limitations on how long data could be stored, and requirements that EU citizens be given administrative and judicial redress by other countries.
A November 4, 2010, Washington Post editorial concluded that the European Parliament’s renegotiation proposal was “distressing” and the “burden should be on the European Parliament to demonstrate why amorphous anxieties about privacy should trump” concerns about terrorist attacks against our aviation system.