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EU needs passenger registry like U.S. implemented post-9/11, says EU anti-terror chief

January 13th, 2015
06:29 PM ET

By Madalena Araujo, CNN

The European Union needs to enact legislation that allows authorities to keep a database of all travelers, similar to a law implemented in the U.S. after the September 11th attacks, the EU’s Counter-Terror Coordinator told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Tuesday.

Gilles de Kerchove’s comments came in response to questioning by Amanpour about Hayat Boumediene, the partner of alleged Paris attacker Amedy Coulibaly, who was reportedly able to go to Turkey via Madrid before crossing into Syria on Thursday.

“I would say because we are missing one instrument and that’s at the core of the discussion in Paris, we really need to do what the Americans have done after 9/11, to set what they call a Passenger Name Record, PNR, which is one of the few tools which allows the police to detect suspicious travel when their services have not been able based on intelligence to detect that someone was planning to go abroad for the jihad.”

The U.S.-style law would make it mandatory for airlines to hand EU countries the data of passengers entering or leaving the union.

It has long been proposed, but has been pending before the European Parliament because of concerns over privacy.

The EU anti-terror chief recognized that implementing “this is a very difficult issue because it raises concerns of privacy, and the European Parliament for the time being is a bit reluctant, so part of the work now is try to convince the European Parliament that it is very much needed and that we strike a fair balance between security and privacy in respect to the PNR.”

Security heads from several EU nations, the U.S. and Canada agreed urgent steps are needed to fight the jihadist threat as they met in Paris on Sunday, in the wake of last week’s attacks in the French capital, which left 17 people dead.

“I think we will get it [the PNR] at the end of the day. We have to work, it’s now in the hands of the experts, but I’m confident and I’m sure that the heads of state in government when they meet on the 12th of February will once again call for an adoption of PNR legislation this year.”

De Kerchove also said that “one of the issues in Paris was whether to ask the commission to come [up] with the legislation to amend what we call the Schengen border code, which does not allow for the time being systematic check on the EU citizens when they cross the external border.”

“I think that will be decided as well by heads of state in government in February, which is I think is a very important move if we want to secure a free movement zone inside Schengen.”

The debate on whether anti-terror laws should be tightened also comes as Andrew Parker, the director general of MI5, Britain’s security agency, warned last week that security services cannot be expected to stop every plot.

Parker’s warning should “be listened to very seriously,” De Kerchove said, seeing as he “does not speak often.”

He acknowledged that “there is indeed still a threat, serious threat, and it comes from Syria and Iraq, and that’s why we have been working the last two years very hard to define [a] more effective policy.”

“It’s about external border control, improving the check at internal border because we have to detect and stop would-be jihadists much more effectively, it’s about aviation security. It’s also maximizing the instrument that we had developed over the years like Europol, like the Schengen information system, and it’s also investing more on [prevention].”

Rob Wainwright, Europe’s police chief, said on Tuesday that as many as 5,000 Europeans have joined extremist groups in Syria and are posing a risk to their homelands.

“As I said before, if you look at the recent case in France, Mohammed Merah, Mehdi Nemmouche, who killed five Jews in Brussels, or four Jews in Brussels, and now Coulibaly, all these three people have been… got radicalized in prisons.”

“So prison remains sadly a major incubator of radicalization and finally, internet. We’ve started dialogue with the big companies - Google, Twitter, Facebook - because it’s a Twitter war.”

“It’s something we have to address both by removing illegal content, it’s difficult because there is always the challenge of freedom of speech, and on the other hand you have to use it internet proactively to counter the narrative of Al Qaeda, of Daish and send counter messages.”

De Kerchove had announced a few days before the Paris attacks plans to set up a cell of advisors in Belgium to help EU member states fight jihadist propaganda. The cell is all about experts in communication advising the member states, he said.

Click above to watch the full interview.

Filed under:  Christiane Amanpour • European Union • France • Latest Episode
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