WASHINGTON – The U.S. Senate has cleared a resolution emphasizing the importance of sharing airline passengers’ names with other countries to deter terrorist travel, sending a message of disapproval of European Union (EU) efforts to weaken an existing data-sharing agreement with the U.S.
Introduced by Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairmen Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., and Ranking Members Susan Collins, R-Me., and co-sponsored by Senators Dianne Feinstein, D-Ca., and Jon Tester, D-Mont., the resolution stresses the value of sharing Passenger Name Recognition (PNR) data to pre-screen international travelers and inform terror investigations. PNR data has been an instrumental part of our strategy to keep terrorists from boarding planes and contributed to the arrests of Faisal Shahzad, the Times Square bomber, and David Headley, a planner of the Mumbai attack.
Lieberman said: “The botched Christmas Day attack in 2009 and the failed efforts last year to blow up planes with bombs loaded on as cargo remind us that terrorists still want to use airplanes as weapons of mass destruction against us. Sharing passenger names is an important part of our layered defenses against terrorism and is an effective way to keep terrorists off planes. PNR data has contributed to the arrests of at least two terrorists since the current agreement with the EU was signed. We simply cannot accept changes to the agreement that could limit our ability to identify and arrest terrorists or potential terrorists in the future.”
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.”
Tester said: “The best security happens when those tasked with protecting this country have the best information available. This existing information partnership with our allies is essential for our national security, and any attempts to change that agreement is a non-starter for me.”
Feinstein said: “The collection and sharing of Passenger Name Record data have proven to be an effective tool in the U.S. government’s efforts to successfully identify would-be terrorists and thwart their plans. Any weakening of the European Union-United States PNR agreement would undermine the progress we have made to keep our country safe.”
Senate passage of the resolution comes as the EU unilaterally reopened negotiations on an agreement it signed with the U.S. in 2007 to PNR data. The agreement was intended to expire in 2014.
Under the Aviation and Transportation Security Act, airlines are required to provide PNR information on all flights. Customs and Border Protection (CPB) uses the data to pre-screen international flights starting 72 hours before their scheduled departure times. 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.
Last September, the European Commission (EC) said its future PNR agreements 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.
The Senate resolution, S.Res.174, is available here.
The House has introduced a similar resolution.