The European Parliament looks set this week to clear the way for the data of airline passengers travelling to, from and within the European Union to be systematically stored, after blocking the measure for years over data privacy concerns.
The creation of a European passenger name records (PNR) system gained momentum following last year's Paris terrorist attacks. The parliament is now set to vote Thursday on the measure, considered to be key for the fight against terrorism and serious crime.
EU lawmaker Timothy Kirkhope, who is shepherding the file through parliament, on Wednesday said he is "reasonably optimistic" that the legislature will approve the creation of the European PNR system, despite some last-minute political maneuvering around the issue.
Different factions in the parliament have accused each other of hampering the process. Left-wing political groups have filed amendments that Kirkhope said would "kill" the PNR proposal.
But hopes are high that the data privacy concerns which have hampered the project will be swept aside by a new EU data protection package, which the parliament is also set to vote on Thursday.
It is meant to set a higher standard of data protection in the EU than the patchwork of national rules that are currently in place. It will also give Europe's internet users more control over their personal data, including a clarified "right to be forgotten."
The new rules are due to come into effect in 2018, the same year by which the new PNR system is to be implemented.
It would store passenger data such as names, credit card numbers and even meal preferences for five years, so that it can be used by law enforcement to track criminal patterns. The data will be rendered anonymous after six months.
The system was originally foreseen only for flights to and from the 28-country EU, but member states have promised to collect data also on intra-EU and charter flights.
PNR supporters argue that the system will prove useful particularly to track so-called foreign fighters - Europeans who travel to Syria or Iraq and could then return home to carry out attacks such as those in Paris last year and Brussels this year.
Kirkhope warned that the PNR system will not be a "silver bullet" in the fight against terrorism, but predicted that it would prove to be a "very valuable contribution."
"The fight against terrorism, it's intelligence work, it's human work, it's new technologies," French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said during a visit to the EU parliament on Tuesday. "We need this tool."
The EU is also pursuing a number of other measures to step up the fight against terrorism. The parliament on Wednesday gave its blessing for 2 million euros (2.3 million dollars) to be spent to increase staffing at the European Counter-Terrorism Centre, which is housed at the EU law enforcement agency Europol.
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