(Section 4 of the Analysis of the AG Opinion in the “PNR Canada” Case: unlocking an “unprecedented and delicate” matter)
After establishing that the EU-Canada PNR Agreement allows for a particularly serious interference with the rights to respect for private life and to the protection of personal data, the AG goes on to analyze whether this interference is justified.
First, he establishes that neither of the two rights “is an absolute prerogative” (§181), meaning that their exercise can be limited. The AG recalls that “that limitations may be placed on the exercise of rights such as those enshrined in Article 7 and Article 8(1) of the Charter, provided that those limitations are provided for by law, that they respect the essence of those rights and that, subject to the principle of proportionality, they are necessary and genuinely meet objectives of general interest recognised by the Union or the need to protect the rights and freedoms of others” (§182).
Again, just like in §170, the AG refers only to limitations of the first paragraph of Article 8. Moreover, he specifies in the following paragraph that “Article 8(2) of the Charter permits the processing of personal data ‘for specified purposes and on the basis of the consent of the person concerned or some other legitimate basis laid down by law’” (§183). He follows this only by stating that “with regard to one of the conditions set out in Article 8(2) of the Charter … the agreement envisaged does not seek to base the processing of the PNR data communicated to the Canadian competent authority on the consent of the air passengers” (§184).
This is why paragraph 188 comes as a surprise, because, after finding the essence of the two rights is not touched (see below), the AG states that “It is therefore necessary to ascertain whether the other conditions of justification provided for in Article 8(2) of the Charter and those laid down in Article 52(1) thereof, which, moreover, overlap in part, are satisfied” (§188).
To my knowledge, it is for the first time an Advocate General, or the Court for that matter, refers to the second paragraph of Article 8 of the Charter as prescribing “conditions for justification” of interferences with the right to the protection of personal data and equals them to those laid down in Article 52(1) of the Charter.
Such a hypothesis is not without merit from the outset, but it would need a more in depth justification than simply stating a couple of paragraphs above that Article 8(2) of the Charter only allows processing of data only for specified purposes and if it is based on consent or has another legitimate basis laid down by law. For instance, if indeed we were to consider that any processing of personal data constitutes an interference with Article 8 (this finding by the Court in DRI has some faults worthy of academic attention, but for the moment we have to work with it), then it would make sense to see the conditions for having a lawful basis for processing as being conditions for justifying the “interference” with the right to the protection of personal data.
Moreover, a separate analysis of whether the conditions in Article 8(2) are satisfied does not follow. The AG merely states in §189 that the conditions from Article 52(1) for the interference to be provided for by law and to meet objectives of general interest are equivalent with the “expression used in Article 8(2)” – having a “legitimate basis”, and they are “manifestly satisfied” (§189).
As for the essence of the two rights, the AG recalls that neither of the parties did not invoke before the Court that the interference harms the essence of the two fundamental rights (§185).
With regard to the essence of Article 7, he further explains that “the nature of the PNR data forming the subject matter of the agreement envisaged does not permit any precise conclusions to be drawn as regards the essence of the private life of the persons concerned. The data in question continues to be limited to the pattern of air travel between Canada and the Union” (§186). The AG also refers in this context to the “masking” and gradual “depersonalization” of the data as guarantees to preserve private life (§186).
With regard to the essence of Article 8, the AG mentions that “under Article 9 of the agreement envisaged, Canada is required, in particular, to ‘ensure compliance verification and the protection, security, confidentiality and integrity of the data’, and also to implement ‘regulatory, procedural or technical measures to protect PNR data against accidental, unlawful or unauthorised access, processing or loss’. In addition, any breach of data security must be amenable to effective and dissuasive corrective measures which might include sanctions” (§187). Unfortunately, the AG does not expand on the concept of the essence of the right to the protection of personal data and does not depart from what the Court indicated in Digital Rights Ireland at §40, restricting the essence of Article 8 mainly to the presence of data security measures.
Concluding that the essence of the two rights is not touched upon, the AG further analyzes the proportionality and the necessity of the interference.