The European Union has adopted a new security law purported to track terrorist suspects traveling to or from conflict zones who may pose a security threat to Europe
The European Parliament, the legislative arm of the 28-member EU, approved the Passenger Name Record (PNR) law in the French city of Strasbourg on Thursday by 461 votes to 179, with nine abstentions.
Under the law, government authorities are given special access to information routinely collected by airlines from passengers, such as travel dates, itineraries, and credit card details.
EU officials say the new law would help prevent terrorist attacks such as the ones that recently occurred in France and Belgium.
However, the initiative has been criticized for giving governments wide access to personal data.
French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, however, defended the plan.
The PNR, he said, “will be a precious tool for boosting the security of European citizens” by helping to detect early the movement of terrorists
and prevent them from taking action.
Cazeneuve said the initiative will boost “the sharing of information between police forces and European intelligence, one of the crucial requirements to enhance our protection against a new and mobile terrorist threat.”
In February, the EU passed a similar security measure to track the sources and channels of funding for terrorist suspects.
Police officers stand outside a courthouse before the hearing of a terrorist suspect, in Brussels, Belgium, April 14, 2016. (Photo by AFP)
The adoption of the new law comes at a time of growing anti-Muslim sentiments across Europe amid the refugee crisis. Analysts say the law will specifically target Muslims.
Europe is currently facing its biggest refugee crisis in decades, with thousands of asylum seekers trying to reach European countries – many of them fleeing conflict zones.
Critics say the decision giving governments wide access to personal data is wrong and blame them for the continent’s security breakdown.
The West stands accused of supporting Takfiri groups when they began their exodus to Syria to topple the government of President Bashar al-Assad.
At the time many observers warned of a blowback when battle-hardened European militants would return and hit back at home.
Europe’s worst nightmare came to pass when terrorist attacks in Paris killed some 130 people on November 13 last year. In Brussels, the de facto capital of the EU, 32 people were killed in similar attacks in March.
EU officials came under particular pressure over security breakdowns that led to the attacks because the suspects in both Paris and Brussels assaults had all reportedly been to Syria before.
A recent study said Belgium, Britain, France and Germany contributed the highest number of militants to the conflicts in Iraq and Syria, where foreign extremists are fighting for various terrorist groups.
The International Center for Counter-Terrorism
, based in The Hague, said on April 1 that the four countries contributed a total of 2,838 militants to those countries.
The figure is more than half the total of 4,294 foreign fighters who have left the EU member states for those two Arab countries over the past few years.
The center warned the European governments about the risks associated with the return of those citizens, saying that the states lacked the proper policies to counter the flow.
Estimates suggest that some 30,000 foreign fighters from about 104 countries were fighting in Iraq and Syria between September 2014 and September 2015.