The Danish government plans to give the Danish Security and Intelligence Service (PET) the ability to collect passenger data on all flights in and out of Denmark.
PET would be given access to passengers’ names, passport information, travel patterns and travelling companions.
“In the fight against terror, it is an essential weapon that PET can quickly and effectively get access to information on possible terrorists on the way to or from Denmark,” Justice Minister Mette Frederiksen told Berlingske.
“The terror threat against Denmark is unfortunately serious and the proposal would, among other things, strengthen PET’s abilities to identify people who travel to conflict zones to fight alongside terror organizations,” she added.
PET’s expanded access to passenger data is one of the government’s 12 initiatives in its previously announced anti-terror package, ‘A strong defence against terror’.
But Denmark’s plans to allow the mass collection of passenger data fly in the face of privacy warnings aired when the EU proposed the creation of a single EU Passenger Name Record (PNR) system, a controversial regime opposed by many in the European Parliament on the grounds it breaches privacy rules in the 28-member bloc.
The proposed EU system would centralize travel data to allow faster exchange of information about suspects, especially of foreign fighters returning to Europe radicalized and well-trained from the war-zones of the Middle East.
Following that proposal, Jan Philipp Albrecht, the vice-chairman of the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, told the Guardian that the plans represent “an open breach of fundamental rights”.
“Instead of a full take of PNR data, we need a focus on suspects and risk flights. The Paris attacks have shown that mass retention was not effective in fighting jihadis. The proposed surveillance of all travellers is a symbolic measure on the cost of EU citizens’ civil liberties and effective security,” Albrecht said.
While the EU continues to debate that proposal, Denmark may go it alone with its plans to give far-reaching power to PET.
The head of Denmark’s Council for Digital Security (Rådet for Digital Sikkerhed) said that it would be foolish for Denmark to get out ahead of EU on passenger data collection.
“We should await the developments in the EU and see what regulations come out of there once they have worked through all the problems. I think that something will come from the EU that is more balanced than the government’s proposal in terms of basic rights,” Birgitte Kofod Olsen told Politiken.
Olsen said that instead of giving PET blanket access to personal passenger data, the agency should use anonymous data to study travel patterns and only access private data once a suspicious pattern is detected.
“It is often presented as a question of what one would rather have: security or privacy. But you can have both. The technology is there so why not use it to achieve two goals at once? Good protections of residents’ data and effective investigations,” she said.