Belgium wants passenger data of bus and train travellers from Great Britain

The EU directive on the use of passenger data requires airlines and other travel providers to provide personal data to the competent authorities before each trip. Belgium is the first EU Member State to apply this to land-based means of transport.

The Belgian government has decided to extend its passenger data system to coach and rail travel. This is what the International Railway Journal writes. It is therefore initially a test phase. According to an agreement with the British government, Belgian authorities receive the data of passengers using the Eurostar long-distance train, which runs between Brussels and London in the tunnel under the English Channel, before each arrival. Flixbus is the first bus company to take part in the exchange of passenger data. It is unclear whether the travel agencies in which the bus and train journeys are booked are also obliged to transmit the data.

Belgium is thus the first EU Member State to apply the EU Directive on the use of Passenger Name Records (PNR) to land-based means of transport. Two years ago, the Belgian Chamber of Deputies had already approved a corresponding law on the control of cross-border means of transport in the wake of the Brussels attacks. The railway, bus and ferry companies concerned must collect the personal data of the person concerned when booking and pass them on to the competent authorities. Companies which fail to comply with the obligation to report are threatened with a fine of up to EUR 50 000 for each individual case.

Passenger data also for ships?

The information must be sent to the Belgian Passenger Information Unit (BelPIU), which is also responsible for processing data on air travel. It is part of the Belgian „crisis centre“, which is located at the Ministry of the Interior. According to the Railway Journal, customs, civil and military secret services are also involved in the exchange of information. The Brussels Times writes that the Belgian Passenger Data Centre has tracked down 834 „wanted criminals“ since its inception in April this year. The cases concerned the criminal areas of terrorism, „tech crime“, drug trafficking, child abduction and theft.

The regulation that has now been implemented could also apply to further means of transport at a later date. The Belgian Passenger Data Act adopted to implement the PNR Directive was last amended last week. In addition to buses and trains, it also mentions passenger ships.

It is possible, however, that the procedure will first be extended to other high-speed trains. In the case of the French Thalys, which also operates in Germany and the Netherlands, passenger data is also processed when booking, but has not yet been passed on to the authorities.

Extension might violate Schengen Borders Code

The Belgian government had also promoted in other neighbouring countries that passengers on ferries, buses and trains should be identified before each journey. Belgium had requested the Netherlands, France and Germany to do so. However, the German Federal Ministry of the Interior rejected this request. The Belgian government was also in talks with the EU Commission, and the Interior Commissioner Julian King allegedly had no fundamental concerns about the expansion of the PNR system.

In cross-border traffic between Great Britain and Belgium, the check whether passengers are actually the holders of the tickets is carried out by authorities. If extended to the Schengen area, such a check between Belgium and other countries would be carried out by the railway staff. A spokeswoman for Flixbus had pointed out that the company’s bus drivers were not in a position to do this. It would also have to be examined to what extent the controls carried out by the private companies constitute de facto border controls and therefore violate the Schengen Borders Code.

Image: After bus and train journeys, ferry connections to Belgium could soon also be covered by the PNR obligation. CC-BY 2.0 Thomas Schlosser

Autor: Matthias Monroy

Knowledge worker, activist, editor of the German civil rights journal Bürgerrechte & Polizei/CILIP.