Page last updated at 16:31 GMT, Wednesday, 6 August 2008 17:31 UK

Ministers' fears on EU data plan

Air passengers
The UK already collects air passengers details

Ministers are concerned EU restrictions on sharing air passengers' data could limit efforts to control immigration.

The UK already collects details like names and travel plans which they say are "vital" to secure borders.

But a plan to make all EU states share the information could limit its use to terrorism and organised crime.

The Home Office says it could pose a "real risk" to its borders programme, which it says has already prompted 2,100 arrests for serious crimes.

The UK already collects passenger name record - or PNR - details include people's names, addresses, e-mail addresses, whether they had luggage, the date they reserved their ticket, "no show" information and whether they paid cash.

'Radical changes'

The EU intends to require all member states to collect the details for flights in and out of Europe, and share them to combat terrorism and organised crime.

But the UK wants to go further and share data from internal EU flights, sea and rail travel and use it for more crimes and continue using it for immigration offences.

The collection of passenger name records is a vital tool in Britain's fight against organised crime, terrorism and immigration offenders
Home Office spokesman

In a report published in July, the House of Lords EU Select Committee warned that if the government pushed for "radical changes" to the EU proposal, it might have to opt out of the EU framework - and lose the co-operation of other EU countries.

And it recommended that the PNR data be used solely for "the fight against terrorism and combating other serious crime" - adding that the definition of a serious crime should be clearly defined.

'Overly prescriptive'

In its response, published on Wednesday, the Home Office welcomed the need for greater clarity about what crimes should be covered - but rejected a recommendation that there should be a comprehensive list as "overly prescriptive".

And it said its e-Borders programme - in which PNR details are gathered and used - had had "real success in strengthening the UK border".

Given the government's proven and serial inability to protect personal data the public will not agree to this lightly
Dominic Grieve
Conservatives

The EU framework as currently drafted posed "a real risk" that it would stop the UK using those details for immigration reasons, it said.

The Home Office said it would continue to "lobby strongly" for the use of PNR data for immigration control to remain, adding that it was "working hard with EU partners to reach agreement on a text which is acceptable to all".

In a statement, a Home Office spokesman said the e-Borders programme had collected details of 50 million passenger movements - which had prompted 25,000 "alerts" and 2,100 arrests for crimes including murder and drug smuggling.

"The collection of passenger name records is a vital tool in Britain's fight against organised crime, terrorism and immigration offenders," he said.

But shadow home secretary Dominic Grieve said, if the government wanted to extend the purposes for which it wants to use passengers' details, it should be precise about "what the objective is, why it is necessary and what safeguards it will put in place to protect the privacy of the innocent".

"Given the government's proven and serial inability to protect personal data the public will not agree to this lightly," he said.


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