Tag Archives: PNR Canada

Section 3. An interference of “a not insignificant gravity”: systematic, transforming all passengers into potential suspects and amounting to preemptive policing

(Section 3 of the Analysis of the AG Opinion in the “PNR Canada” Case: unlocking an “unprecedented and delicate” matter)

In order to answer the first question raised by the Parliament in the proceedings before the Court – whether the Agreement complies with EU Primary law, and in particular with Articles 7 and 8 of the Charter, AG Mengozzi follows the classical test: is there an interference?[1] And if so, is the interference justified?[2]

Analyzing separately Articles 7 and 8 of the Charter, still a challenge

Even if the Court has recently started to analyze separately the rights protected by Article 7 (to respect for private life) and by Article 8 of the Charter (to the protection of personal data) – see the judgments in DRI and Schrems, the AG seems to hesitate again between the two rights. He starts his analysis on whether there is an interference with the two rights (§170) by recalling the older case-law of the Court which stated that the right to the protection of private life and the right to the protection of personal data are “closely connected” (Schecke, §47; ASNEF, §41).

First he finds that the PNR data “touches on the area of the privacy, indeed intimacy, of persons and indisputably relates to one or more identified or identifiable individual or individuals” (§170). Thus, in the same sentence, the AG brings PNR data within the scope of both Article 7 and Article 8 of the Charter. He further identifies different treatments of the data under the terms of the Agreement (§170):

– systematic transfer of PNR data to the Canadian public authorities,

– access to that data,

– the use of that data,

– its retention for a period of five years by those public authorities,

– its subsequent transfer to other public authorities, including those of third countries,

The AG states that all of the above are “operations which fall within the scope of the fundamental right to respect for private and family life guaranteed by Article 7 of the Charter and to the ‘closely connected’ but nonetheless distinct right to protection of personal data guaranteed by Article 8(1) of the Charter and constitute an interference with those fundamental rights” (§170).

Therefore, the AG does not differentiate here between what constitutes interference with the right to respect for private life and what constitutes interference with the right to the protection of personal data.

However, in the following paragraph, the AG does make such a differentiation, but only because he restates the findings of the Court in Digital Rights Ireland, even if this partly repeats some of the findings in §170: “the obligation to retain that data, required by the public authorities, and subsequent access of the competent national authorities to data relating to a person’s private life also constitutes in itself an interference with the rights guaranteed by Article 7 of the Charter (he refers here to §34 and §35 of DRI in a footnote). Likewise, an EU act prescribing any form of processing of personal data constitutes an interference with the fundamental right, laid down in Article 8 of the Charter, to protection of such data (he refers here to §29 and §36 of DRI)” (§171).

There is not a lot of clarity transpiring from these two paragraphs, especially considering that §170 in fact refers to interference only with the first paragraph of Article 8 and not with the entire Article 8 (See also Section 4 of this analysis for additional comments prompted by this differentiation).

What is certain is that indeed there is an interference with both rights. The AG further notes the seriousness of that interference, indicating that he is fully aware of its severity:

“The fact nonetheless remains that the interference constituted by the agreement envisaged is of a considerable size and a not insignificant gravity. It systematically affects all passengers flying between Canada and the Union, that is to say, several tens of millions of persons a year. Furthermore, as most of the interested parties have confirmed, no one can fail to be aware that the transfer of voluminous quantities of personal data of air passengers, which includes sensitive data, requiring, by definition, automated processing, and the retention of that data for a period of five years, is intended to permit a comparison, which will be retroactive where appropriate, of that data with pre-established patterns of behaviour that is ‘at risk’ or ‘of concern’, in connection with terrorist activities and/or serious transnational crime, in order to identify persons not hitherto known to the police or not suspected. Those characteristics, apparently inherent in the PNR scheme put in place by the agreement envisaged, are capable of giving the unfortunate impression that all the passengers concerned are transformed into potential suspects” (§176).

Even though at this stage the AG acknowledges the severity of the interference with fundamental rights of PNR schemes, he deems it to be justified by necessity (See Section 5 of this analysis).

Finally, it is also notable to mention that the AG found that the procedures for collecting the data come within the competence of the air carriers, “which, in this regard, must act in compliance with the relevant national provisions and with EU law” (§178). He concludes that “the collection of the PNR data therefore does not constitute a processing of personal data entailing an interference with the fundamental rights guaranteed by Articles 7 and 8 of the Charter that results from the agreement envisaged itself. In the light of the limited power of the Court in the context of the opinion procedure, that operation will therefore not form the subject matter of the following developments” (§179).



[1] Dealt with in this section.

[2] Dealt with in Sections 4 and 5 of this analysis.