EU needs more nudging on travel data, says DHS chief

The incoming administration will have to continue prodding the EU to share more traveler passenger information with DHS, according to the agency's outgoing secretary.

Shutterstock image: digital fingerprint.

The European Union needs to do more to share biometric data for travelers bound for the U.S., according to the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.

In a Jan. 5 exit memo, DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson said expanding and encouraging information sharing with foreign governments, state and local law enforcement, the private sector and "our federal interagency partners" within DHS is critical to future border security.

DHS' Secure Real Time Platform, which the agency has been working to deploy with other countries since 2013, allows foreign governments to submit biometric data on migrants for comparison against the agency's own biometric data for border screening, he said.

Some governments have been wary of using it because of privacy concerns, however.

"For those governments that have agreed to use it so far, the tool has proven very useful," said Johnson. However, he warned his potential replacement that the issue needs continued vigilance.

"Our allies -- particularly those within the European Union -- must continue to be encouraged to themselves track the travel of those who enter and leave their borders, and share that information with us," he said.

The EU's adoption in April of a directive for the use of passenger name record data was "encouraging," Johnson said, but added that European nations "must be prodded in this direction going forward."

The European Parliament voted on April 14 to require airlines to submit passenger data for all flights in and out of member nations under a passenger name record system. Covered data includes name, itinerary, contact information and payment details.

The proposal was approved by the EU Council in December. Member states will have two years to incorporate the directive. Under the directive, air carriers will provide members with the passenger name record data for flights entering or departing from the EU. It will also allow, but not require, member states to collect name data concerning selected intra-EU flights.

The EU previously had been reluctant to take on such measures because of strict privacy controls in many member states, and it has been critical of DHS' gathering of similar data in the past. However, EU officials said they had struck a balance between privacy and protection in the wake of recent terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels.