Citing the arrest of Mumbai attack accused David Headley, Britain has decided to join a European Union directive that requires airlines to pass on names and booking information of passengers before travelling to their destinations.

Called EU Directive on Passenger Name Records (PNR), the passenger data collected by airlines is considered a “vital and proved tool” in the fight against terrorism and other organised crime, Immigration Minister Damian Green said in a statement in the House of Commons last night.

Making the case for Britain’s participation in the EU Directive, Mr. Green mentioned the example of David Headley.

He said: “(The) case of David Headley, the terrorist facilitator convicted in the U.S. of involvement in the Mumbai attacks shows the benefits of PNR.

“All that was available to investigators initially was the first name ‘David’, a vague travel window of ‘the next few weeks’ and the partial travel itinerary of a flight from the United States to Germany“.

He added: “The U.S. used this PNR data in association with other known flight information to identify the suspect before he could travel. Headley was later arrested and pleaded guilty to terrorism-related crimes“.

PNR, Mr. Green said, helped law enforcement agencies to prevent, detect, investigate and prosecute terrorists and other serious criminals.

Its power lay in the fact that by using an automated system and interrogating it intelligently, authorities are able to sift data quickly and in such a way that it reveals patterns and makes links that would otherwise not be readily apparent, he said.

The system also helps apprehend human traffickers, Mr. Green said.

In 2009, working with Italian authorities, he said Britain used PNR data to identify Chinese passengers attempting to travel to London from Italy in a human trafficking operation.

It led to the conviction in the Italian courts of several traffickers in January 2010.

Mr. Green added: “Our commitment to a proportionate approach is made clear by our proposal to collect data only on routes of high risk, whether these are between a third country and a Member State or between Member States.

“Our starting position therefore is about reducing the amount of data collected rather than imposing blanket coverage on all routes from outside the EU as the Directive currently proposes”.

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