On July 26, 2017, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) issued Opinion 1/15 (the Opinion of the Advocate General on this case had been discussed previously in this blog, part I and part II) pursuant to Article 218(11) TFEU on the draft agreement between Canada and the European Union (EU) dealing with the Transfer of Passenger Name Record (PNR) data from the EU to Canada. The draft agreement was referred to the ECJ by the European Parliament (EP) on January 30, 2015. The envisaged agreement would regulate the exchange and processing of PNR data – which reveals passengers’ personal information, itinerary, travel preferences and habits – between the EU and Canada. The adoption of the agreement is crucial because, according to Article 25 of Directive 95/46/EC as interpreted in the Schrems decision (commented here), the transfer of data to a third country (discussed here) is possible only if such country ensures an “adequate level of protection.” This standard can be testified by an “adequacy decision” of the European Commission or, alternatively, by international commitments in place between non-EU countries and the EU – as the one examined by the ECJ in this Opinion.
Not surprisingly, the leitmotiv of the Court’s Opinion is the challenging balance between liberty and security. Maintaining a realistic perspective, the Court considered mass surveillance tolerable at least in theory, because it is a necessary and useful tool for the prevention of terrorism. Yet, it insisted that there should be very strict rules as to the concrete implementation of such surveillance. For this reason, it found some provisions of the draft agreement incompatible with Articles 7 (privacy) and 8 (data protection), in conjunction with Article 52 (principle of proportionality) of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (CFREU).
As a result, the agreement cannot be adopted in the current form and the EU institutions will have to renegotiate it with Canada. For sure, this renegotiation will prove to be challenging. Nevertheless, as the analysis below will show, the Luxembourg judges, by addressing particularly technical issues of the agreement, provided a detailed set of guidelines that, if respected, would ideally preserve fundamental rights – in this case, the right to privacy and to data protection – without undermining public security. Through a smooth and refined reasoning, the Court’s decision indeed suggests potential solutions to amend the draft agreement in a way that is compliant with the CFREU and, ultimately, the rule of law. Continue reading