back to article EU data protection chief: Snaffling all air traveller data goes too far

Europe’s data protection tsar has warned law-makers that collecting and storing information on all airline travellers risks breaching EU privacy laws. The so-called PNR (passenger name record) scheme is back on the table after being rejected by MEPs in 2013. The plan is to force airline operators to store every scrap of …

  1. nematoad Silver badge

    Yes, right.

    “Necessity and proportionality..."

    That's a couple of words that the "powers that be" probably can't even spell let alone understand.

    They are making this data grab not because they urgently need it but because they can and it might just might, be useful in the future. No guarantees on that last I suspect.

    It is all about power and control. The TLAs and their supporters need to feel that they are special and have extraordinary powers that other, lesser beings do not have and who should not be granted any right to dignity, privacy or control over their own lives. Pretty much the way that Roman Emperors regarded the mob, with fear and contempt. So when they say that all this is in the name of "security" they mean their security, not ours. We are all "plebs" to them.

    They are doing it because they can, not because they have to.

    1. Vimes

      Re: Yes, right.

      Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. -- George Orwell

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Yes, right.

      There is also that annoying fact that none of this is truly reciprocated. AFAIK, the 9/11 terrorists that started this mess were actually living in the US so if anything we need to know what leaves that rather than the other way around.

      In general I think we rely too much on that data. I would like to see an analysis of just how effective that data has been in preventing disasters and hijacking, but I suspect that data will be VERY, VERY hard to come by.

  2. Vimes

    It's funny how often the EU gets used by member states to circumvent their own inconvenient democracies at home.

    They connive with each other to force through measures at the EU level (like the now defunct Data Retention Directive for example) then when somebody dares complain they just throw up and their hands and claim that Europe made them do it, and that they're powerless to stop it.

    How they manage to do that with a straight face never ceases to amaze me.

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Re: "they manage to do that with a straight face"

      Well they are politicians. Their whole life is devoted to lying convincingly.

    2. James Micallef Silver badge

      "It's funny how often the EU gets used by member states to circumvent their own inconvenient democracies at home"

      Good thing that the EU parliament is (albeit very slowly) starting to count for more inside the EU as it takes on more powers. It's the only directly elected (ie democratic) EU body, and seems to be the only one which has (a few) members who are genuinely interested in the needs of the electorate rather than the desires of the civil servants.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Big Brother

    I have a proposal for a kick starter project:

    The Disinformation Engine

    The idea is to fill all these snoopers databases so full of crap data as to make them useless.

    Up vote if you're in. Down vote if you want to live under the state and corporate Stasi.

    Disclaimer: the referendum question has been vetted by the Electoral Commission and has been judged to be in no way leading or biased.

    1. Jonathan Richards 1
      Thumb Up

      re Disinformation Engine

      As a first step, I suggest that we *all* order the halal or kosher option the next time we fly*. For bonus points, on long haul, have the halal lunch and the kosher dinner.

      * The next time we fly with an airline that provides in-flight meals, I mean.

    2. asdf Silver badge

      >The Disinformation Engine

      Stolen from another El Reg postard (Jon) but love the paraphrase (quite prophetic as well) and hope its true.

      To paraphrase Heinlein

      It is your duty to buck the system at every turn - if you can't get away with paying less tax, pay a little more - it messes with their system, and causes headaches. Give false, or as little information to governments, corporations and other bodies. Make it as difficult to profile you, and in turn profile the world, as you can.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      The Disinformation Engine

      The idea is to fill all these snoopers databases so full of crap data as to make them useless.

      Not a *new* idea. Storing spurious data and hiding in plain sight have been a staple of most good security management routines for years. You also do this if you want to defeat traffic analysis - certain in-theatre communication facilities have that built in so you can't easily identify those in charge.

  4. Warm Braw Silver badge

    Compare and contrast

    I'm a bit out of touch with current practice, but the banks used to sift through everyone's financial transactions, looking primarily for fraud patterns, but passing "interesting" data across to the security services.

    In one sense this is "proportionate" in that said security services only received data relating to activity that was likely illegal (whatever that might be on the day), but it still involves everyone's data being under permananent scrutiny, just that the initial analysis is done by a private company with whom you have a contractual relationship (and therefore consented to the data slurp, sorry...).

    Although these days I wouldn't be surprised if the whole lot is sent off to be added to the network analysis of communications "metadata".

    I can't help thinking this is the model that the powers that be have in mind when they talk about "greater co-operation" from the likes of Google and Facebook - we won't slurp all your users' data provided that you process it on our behalf and send us the good stuff. And I imagine the airlines will probably be asked to do the same.

    1. Vimes

      Re: Compare and contrast

      I can't help thinking this is the model that the powers that be have in mind when they talk about "greater co-operation" from the likes of Google and Facebook

      It won't work, at least not when it comes to the more general sense you're referring to rather than just the travel arrangements.

      With financial transactions it's easier to do quantifiable things that are clearly questionable. Transfer tens of thousands of pounds out of the country for example, when this is clearly outside the normal pattern established by the customer. Similarly with travel arrangements if you try and fly to Turkey then this could equally be a red flag given what's happening in Syria.

      The problem with facebook and google (and most other online activity) is that language and online interactions introduce a level of ambiguity that this much more difficult to deal with.

      Unless you can define 'the good stuff' in a similarly definitive way (good luck with that one - they have yet to determine what 'extremism' means in any sort of quantifiable way) then there's little hope that this can be done without either missing out huge chunks of information that they would be interested in or - perhaps more likely - giving them much more information than they need.

      For that matter, the very meaning of 'the good stuff' could change rapidly depending on the specific needs of the day and what they're looking into.

      1. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

        Re: Compare and contrast @Vimes

        "Transfer tens of thousands of pounds out of the country for example, when this is clearly outside the normal pattern established by the customer."

        Yet this is often the case when, for instance, parent in country A lends/gives the deposit for a house to his/her child in country B. This is perforce going to happen rarely, and (I would say without any real evidence) far more often than fraudulent/dodgy transactions. It happened to us recently when my father-in-law gave us a fair chunk of the deposit for a new house - I'm not sure what scrutiny he came under in his EU country (given that he has quite a high position in the IT dept of a bank), but we almost lost the house due to the mortgage lender here in the UK refusing to accept the money because it came from a foreign source.* Their argument was that since the money came from a savings account in another country, there was no audit trail and they could not possibly accept it under the money laundering rules. I have since heard from other people from overseas that some other lenders are equally averse to foreign money, even when the audit trail is clear (property sold in France/Holland/Brazil - proceeds not acceptable).

        *A very quick change to the mortgage on my rented-out house in the UK, and the pleasure of telling the first Building Society (Skipton, if anyone is interested) to FOAD, sorted it out in less than ten days with a different lender.

        "Similarly with travel arrangements if you try and fly to Turkey then this could equally be a red flag given what's happening in Syria."

        Lots of people go to Turkey every year for holidays. Some will go for the first time (like my mum last year for a friend's wedding).** Are you saying that it is proportionate and necessary that all these should be flagged and queried?

        ** Oh heck - money from abroad, first trip to Turkey - now some Iranians have just moved in next door to my mum ... we're on a watch-list, aren't we?? [The metadata problem again]

    2. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Re: Compare and contrast

      Banks have a vested interest in preventing fraud or money laundering: they can be held liable if they don't take "reasonable steps" to prevent. But they can do this without infringing on privacy – they are essentially checking financial transactions – until they have "reasonable grounds for suspicion" at which point the authorities can be informed and warrants issued if necessary.

      The degree of surveillance and the conditions under which the authorities are informed are probably debatable but in no way comparable to the wholesale transfer of all data to them This turns everyone into a suspect, in the legal sense, which violates habeas corpus.

    3. trillyuk

      Re: Compare and contrast

      Airlines are not that interested in reporting suspect people using their services as long as they have brought and paid for the ticket legally, or if not, it is not the airlines money at stake.

      Airlines at times know that they have someone boarding who maybe wanted by the authorities but they would argue they are not the police and down to them to do the job for them. Whilst this might raise an eyebrow the view for an airline to call the authorities at the gate would likely delay the flight. The airline would have to find and unload any baggage meaning that the flight misses it take-off slot and delays all the other passengers which costs the airline money in compensation.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I have not visited North America since this nonsense started. If this goes through here in Europe, I can see myself taking a lot more trains.

    1. Your alien overlord - fear me

      Well, don't go on French ones.

      And since railway tracks over bridges are very easy to unbolt, you don't even need suicide bombers any more.

      Me, I'm walking everywhere until my hoverboard arrives in the post.

      1. James Micallef Silver badge

        "And since railway tracks over bridges are very easy to unbolt, you don't even need suicide bombers any more"

        If that is the case, there has been a surprising dearth of railway bridge tracks being unbolted. Or maybe there aren't as many extremist sleeper paedo-terrorist islamists around as some politicians and intelligence* agencies would have us believe.

        *Orwell's 1984 - Ministry of Love responsible for torture, Ministry of Plenty responsible for rationing etc. In real life, Ministry of Defense responsible for Attack, 'Intelligence' in MI, CIA etc is just a word

        1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. MrTuK

      I hope you pay cash for your ticket then otherwise you are trackable, also the stations tend to have face recognition camera's so they will still know who boarded when and when and what their destination was and when they arrived unless you can avoid your face being seen by the camera !

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    If this goes through here in Europe, I can see myself taking a lot more trains.

    Ah, but that brings its own problems.

    The most staggering difference is in the present price of a flight and the cost of a train ticket for the same distance, but that is probably because it's impossible to establish any sort of competition.

  7. Pascal Monett Silver badge
    Coat

    "massive, non-targeted and indiscriminate"

    The conjunction of those particular adjectives concerning just about anything feels just wrong.

    Although, if I were to nitpick, I would say that indiscriminate and non-targeted seem to be two faces of the same coin.

    Nevertheless, common sense would dictate that any system that can be described as massive and indiscriminate surely needs a redesign.

    But who am I fooling . . .

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