EU deal on sharing air passenger records in sight
A long-awaited EU agreement on sharing air passenger records is within sight after Home Secretary Theresa May warned a deal was urgently needed in the wake of the Paris terror attacks.
Britain has long pushed for a common approach to the use of data, which is seen as a crucial tool against terrorism and serious crime.
Calls for greater cross-border collaboration intensified after the massacre of 130 people in the French capital, which fuelled concerns that extremists are passing unchecked into Europe from Syria and Iraq.
Passenger name records (PNR) data covers information provided by passengers and collected by air carriers during reservation and check-in, and can include travel dates, contact details and payment information.
The information is already used by individual countries for law enforcement purposes but attempts to secure an EU-wide agreement have so far failed.
Arriving at talks with her counterparts in Brussels, Mrs May said: "Challenges in relation to security and the Paris attacks remind us of the need to maintain our domestic security.
"Europe today must come together, must work further together to increase the sharing of information across borders and passenger name records is important in this.
"We have been waiting too long for a deal on passenger name records. We need a deal now, immediate action is important."
It was later confirmed the EU Justice and Home Affairs Council approved a "compromise" text agreed with the European Parliament on proposals for a directive on the use of PNR data.
Under the directive, air carriers will be obliged to provide member states' authorities with the PNR data for flights entering or departing from the EU.
It will also allow, but not compel, EU countries to gather PNR data concerning selected flights within the bloc.
The directive states the information can only be processed for "the prevention, detection, investigation and prosecution of terrorist offences and serious crime".
Data will initially be stored for six months before any details that could identify the passenger are "masked out". New rules also include provisions for "strong safeguards" on privacy and personal data.
Etienne Schneider, Luxembourg deputy prime minister and president of the council, said: "The compromise agreed today will enable the EU to set up an effective PNR system which fully respects fundamental rights and freedoms."
Prior to the summit, Mrs May also called for more action to tackle trafficking of firearms.
She said the UK has "stood shoulder to shoulder with France" since the Paris attacks, adding: " The decision that was taken this week by a clear, cross-party parliamentary majority in the UK to start air strikes in Syria is a sign of the determination of the UK to deal with this terrorist threat and to keep people safe.
"But as we see those air strikes taking place in Syria, as we strike at the heart of Daesh (Islamic State), we must of course remember the challenges that we face here at home in Europe."