The Belgian Control Body on Police Information is urging authorities to reassess the efficiency of the system screening air passengers, following a number of problems and questions that came up after an investigation.
1. Screening air passengers
At stake is the effectiveness and proportionality of the screening of air passengers, according to the Supervisory Body on Police Information in Belgium. The Supervisory Body is the autonomous federal parliamentary body in charge of monitoring the management of police information and also the data controller for the integrated police service, the Passenger Information Unit (PUI) and the General Inspectorate of the Federal and the Local Police.
Since 2018, over 50 million passenger have been screened in Belgian airports in the fight against terrorism and organised crime. Among other things, passengers’ names, addresses, payment details, dates of birth and passport numbers are registered by the “Passenger Information Unit” (PIE). The unit is housed at the Federal Public Service of Home Affairs and also includes experts from the federal police, State Security, Military Intelligence and Customs.
However, a new audit report by the Supervisory Body on Police Information reveals the screening procedure suffers from severe problems such as incorrect data being passed on at times, police forces receiving the info too late or not doing anything with it, and passengers being unfairly stopped by customs or airport police forces.
🚨Treating every traveller as a criminal goes against #FundamentalRights – unfortunately, CJEU ignored this when taking the latest 🇪🇺’s Passenger Name Record Directive decision.— EDRi (@edri) February 21, 2022
🔎Find the details regarding this decision in the latest #EDRigram: https://t.co/z8aiEA8pkY pic.twitter.com/GvC7gC8ThY
Legal problems also sprung up during the Supervisory Body’s investigation, which claims that the PIE is doing more than the law allows. Screening all air passengers leaving, arriving or transiting here is a “large-scale data processing” and a “far-reaching intrusion into personal privacy”, the Supervisory Body said, which oversees all privacy issues in the police.
3. EU legislation
The monitoring body concluded in its report that there is a need for a political assessment of the effectiveness of the passenger database, legally known as “Passenger Name Record”. The Supervisory Body points out that a thorough review of Belgium’s rules on screening passenger data is needed as the European Court of Justice handed down an important ruling on 21 June in response to preliminary questions from Belgium’s Constitutional Court.
According to the Court, the European “Passenger Name Record” directive may only be used by security services if strictly necessary. The directive, in force since 2016, foresees that national law enforcement authorities run PUIs. The directive applies to all flights entering, leaving or travelling between EU countries and the rules were also included in the post-Brexit Trade and Cooperation Agreement between the UK and EU.
Due to the directive’s intrusive nature and vast scope — covering almost every individual travelling by air within the EU, apart from flights within one country — its adoption was hugely controversial, with critics calling it “travel surveillance”. After it came into force, a number of legal cases were filed against it.