Ministers To Fight Ban On Migrant Checks

Ministers to fight ban on migrant checks

Alan Travis, home affairs editor
The Guardian,
Thursday August 7 2008

Ministers are to fight a European Union move which could block Britain's use of advanced airline passenger lists to combat illegal immigration, the Home Office said yesterday. The EU is proposing that passenger lists for flights into and out of Europe should to be shared between security authorities in all member states before take-off, but only for combating terrorism or organised crime.

The passenger data includes name and address, and up to 19 pieces of information including travel itinerary, frequent flyer history and billing details. Airlines have to provide the information up to 48 hours in advance so it can be used for checks against security databases.

Sensitive personal data such as ethnic origin, religious beliefs or political opinions are excluded. Airlines must retain the passenger records for 13 years.

The Home Office already collects this data on flights in and out of Britain and under its e-Borders programme has details for 50 million passenger movements which it uses to operate “no-fly” lists against immigration offenders. The programme has been at the centre of the government's attempts to reassure public opinion over immigration by holding out the promise of electronically keeping track of everybody who enters and leaves Britain.

“As currently drafted there is a real risk that the EU passenger name record [PNR]proposal would degrade e-Borders by prohibiting the use of PNR data for combating immigration offences. We will therefore lobby strongly for the framework decision not to preclude the use of PNR for this purpose,” said a Home Office response yesterday.

The House of Lords EU scrutiny committee warned ministers that an attempt to extend the use of PNR data beyond what was acceptable to other EU states would force Britain into opting out of the European agreement.

But the Home Office is determined to press ahead. A spokesman said that the e-Borders programme had already led to 25,000 alerts and 2,100 arrests for offences ranging from murder and possession of firearms to tobacco-smuggling.