Congress did something important yesterday: It took a stand on behalf of American security, and it did so at the risk of angering our European allies. That took some guts, but it was the right thing to do.
The European Union is a critical partner for America in maintaining our national security. Europe serves as a gateway for travel to the U.S. and a welcome trading partner for our goods. European nations have sent troops to fight in Afghanistan and—under the umbrella of NATO—to Libya. Our own security benefits from (and, indeed, requires) cooperative engagement with our European allies.
For the last 10 years, one of the hallmarks of that cooperation has been a robust system of sharing information related to terrorism. This includes detailed information about intelligence and terrorism leads. It also includes a wealth of transactional data about travel and finances that have been used to “connect the dots” of terrorism.
It has therefore been a cause of some concern that, increasingly, the newly empowered European Parliament has adopted views that seem to advance European conceptions of privacy at the expense of our joint security. The Parliament, for example, rejected an information-sharing agreement that was critical to our joint ability to track terrorist finances and has, to some degree, disabled our efforts.
More recently, the Parliament has begun an effort to roll back information-sharing agreements relating to passengers traveling between Europe and the U.S. This passenger information (known as a Passenger Name Record, or PNR) is under U.S. law required to be provided to Customs before entry into the U.S. We have exchanged this type of information with European nations for nearly 10 years now. Some of that information has proven critical in uncovering several terrorist plots. And yet some in the European Parliament think that America is overzealous in its security arrangements, likening us to Dirty Harry (with Europe playing the role of the more refined Hercule Poirot).
For some time, our own Congress ignored these efforts, reasoning that the European Parliament isn’t as influential as it thinks it is. But now, as the Department of Homeland Security is in the midst of its fourth round of negotiations with the European Union in the last 10 years, it seems appropriate for Congress to express its views.
Kudos are due, therefore, to Senators Joseph Lieberman (I-D–CT) and Susan Collins (R–ME) and Representatives Peter King (R–NY) and Bennie Thompson (D–MS), who filed sense of the Senate and House resolutions in their respective chambers yesterday, urging the department to reject any modifications to the existing information-sharing arrangements. The Senate resolution was passed out of the Senate committee today.
This is a good thing. Longstanding international law (like the Chicago Convention of 1948) gives every country the right to set the terms under which it will permit foreigners to enter. America has every right—and indeed an obligation—to employ information analytical systems that protect our security. If that offends the European Parliament, its members are, of course, free to vacation in Africa instead (subject, of course, to whatever rules those countries impose).
As Heritage has earlier noted, data-sharing agreements like the PNR agreement are critical in combating terrorism. And as even The Washington Post has said, they should not be restricted without someone showing that the current agreements have caused problems. They haven’t.
Congress is right to say “enough.” It is past time for Europe to stop exercising a form of policy imperialism and trying to export their privacy processes to the U.S. As Congress has said, America has robust privacy protections and a firm commitment to the protection of data. That’s exactly right, and the European Parliament should recognize that fact.