11 Sep 2008

Tracing Terrorists: The EU-Canada Agreement in PNR Matters

Peter Hobbing

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Revised version 17.11.2008
Enhancing border security in support of the global ‘war against terrorism’ is very much in vogue these days, in particular as regards the control of air passengers. Seven years after 9/11, this trend is yet unbroken. While the build-up of defences occurs in most cases at the one-sided expense of civil liberties, the EU–Canada Agreement of 2005 is different: quite justly, it holds the reputation of a well-balanced instrument respecting the interests of citizens. Still, instead of serving as a model for future instruments, the Agreement rather runs the risk of being scrapped at the next possible occasion. A close look at the passenger name record (PNR) ‘mainstream’, as embodied by the EU–US branch of transatlantic relations with four Agreements rapidly succeeding between 2004 and 2008, reveals the opposite tendency away from data protection and towards an unconditional tightening of controls. This report undertakes to examine the doubtful benefits of such an approach by assessing the price to pay inter alia for ‘false positive’ mismatches and other collateral damages, while the actual achievement of a higher degree of public security remains very much in the dark, mostly owing to the impossibility of making all borders 100% secure. As a result, no critical reason emerges for taking leave of the good practices established by the EU–Canada instrument.