A deal between the European Union and Canada to share airline passenger information is in breach of fundamental EU rights and should not be implemented as agreed, an advisor to the European Union's top court recommended Thursday.
The assessment was welcomed by data protection advocates, who warned that the final decision by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) could have consequences for a similar EU-wide deal finalized earlier this year. But others criticized the advice as "irresponsible."
The sharing of so-called passenger name record (PNR) data - including the names, addresses and credit card numbers of plane travellers - is considered important to tackle terrorism, but has proven controversial in Europe due to privacy concerns.
The agreement with Canada was signed by EU governments in 2014, but has to be approved by the European Parliament before taking effect.
Before doing so, EU lawmakers decided to ask the ECJ whether the deal, which involves the collection of European citizens' personal data, is in line with the bloc's treaties.
Some elements of the PNR deal run counter to the EU charter of fundamental rights, Advocate General Paolo Mengozzi found.
He is one of 10 advocates general who provide legal opinions to the EU court, which will likely need several more months before issuing its definitive opinion.
Mengozzi flagged provisions that allow Canada to process, store and disclose PNR data beyond what is strictly necessary to prevent and detect terrorist offences and serious crime, and to transfer data to third countries that could pass it on further.
He based his opinion in part on a landmark ECJ ruling last year that struck down an EU-US data sharing deal known as Safe Harbor, after it was challenged by Austrian activist Max Schrems.
It is the first time the Luxembourg-based judges have been called upon to rule on the compatibility of an international agreement with EU fundamental rights, the court said.
Mengozzi's advice was welcomed by European Digital Rights, a data protection campaign group. If followed by the court, it could have a significant impact on other PNR agreements, including an EU-wide deal signed off by the parliament in April, the group said.
But conservative EU lawmaker Timothy Kirkhope called the opinion "irresponsible," arguing that it "not only threatens our fight against terrorism but also the fight against child exploitation, trafficking and drug smuggling."
EU-based airlines already share PNR data with security forces in Canada, Australia and the United States. The parliament had demanded new agreements with all three partners to better bring them into line with EU standards.