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European lawmakers reject passenger-data scheme


By Teddy Nykiel

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Parliament rejected a plan on Wednesday to create a European system for storing airline passengers' personal details, a move to help fight crime and terrorism.

The proposal would require airlines to provide European governments with data including passengers' phone numbers, addresses and credit card details when entering or leaving the 27-country European Union. Such information is already shared with the United States, but not with all other EU states.

But the parliament's civil liberties committee voted against the scheme by 30 votes to 25, concluding that an EU passenger data system would breach citizens' fundamental rights.

The heads of the political groups in the European Parliament will now discuss the future of the proposal with assembly President Martin Schulz, to decide how to proceed. The plan will either be abandoned or could be revised and reproposed.

"This disproportionate proposal would have been a grave departure from the constitutional presumption of innocence," said a spokesman for the Greens, staunch opponents of the plan.

"Travel itineraries, hotel bookings, credit card details and other personal information of passengers would have been stored in police databases for five years."

Timothy Kirkhope, a conservative member of the European Parliament who backs the proposal, called the vote hypocritical, pointing out that the European Union already has agreements to share passenger information with the United States and Canada.

"This agreement would have enabled us to track terrorists, people traffickers and other serious criminals and it would put in place strong protections for passenger data," Kirkhope said.

"Most people give more information on their (supermarket loyalty card) than would be exchanged between national governments."

Sixteen EU governments already collect passenger data.

The European Commission introduced the proposal for an EU-wide Passenger Name Records (PNR) system in February 2011.

"We remain convinced that the EU-PNR is necessary to fight serious crime and terrorism," Michele Cercone, the Commission's spokesman on home affairs, told Reuters.

"An EU-coordinated approach is the only one able to avoid the creation of fragmented national systems and to guarantee robust data protection safeguards all over the EU."

(Reporting By Teddy Nykiel; editing by Rex Merrifield)