New 24/7 intel unit on airline passengers

A new round-the-clock intelligence unit to bolster Ireland’s border security will be a multi-agency body, including specialist gardaí.

The Passenger Information Unit (PIU), due to be up and running by next May, will have its own premises and staffing complement, financed by an initial €4m budget.

It is being set up to implement an EU directive to create a union-wide system for collecting, analysing and sharing airline passenger information with a view to identifying “unknown” persons who may be involved in terrorism or serious transnational crime.

Under the EU Directive on Passenger Name Record, (PNR) airlines have to give PIUs passenger details on all flights coming into their country from outside the EU.

PNR data includes a passenger’s travel dates, travel itinerary, ticket information, contact details, payment details and baggage information.

The PIU will be part of the Department of Justice’s Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS), but will include garda intelligence officers.

The Department of Justice told the Irish Examiner the unit will operate on a “365/24/7” basis.

“It is envisaged that the unit, which will operate under the aegis of the department, will be comprised of officers from a number of agencies, including An Garda Síochána,” said a department spokesman, adding that the organisational structure was currently being developed.

He said the PIU will “screen airline passenger data in order to facilitate the prevention, detection, investigation and prosecution of terrorist offences and other serious crimes”.

He said that “significant start-up costs” will be involved in relation to securing accommodation and staffing.

“It is planned that the new unit will be operational by May 2018,” the spokesman said.

“Legislation to implement the directive into Irish law is currently being prepared.”

The directive also states that an independent supervisory authority and a data protection officer must also be set up.

A European Parliament document said PNR would enable authorities to “identify persons who were previously unsuspected of involvement in terrorism or serious crime”.

The directive is silent on how authorities do this other than compare PNR against “various databases”.

PIU is separate to the Schengen Information System, which Ireland is now joining. SIS provides alerts on certain categories of wanted or missing persons or objects but does not enable identification of “unknown” suspects.

Authorities will be able to check PNR against Interpol and Europol databases as well as the Garda Pulse System.

The INIS has been taking over border checks from the Garda National Immigration Bureau (GNIB) at Dublin Airport, a process due to be completed this autumn.

With the Department confirming that the unit will comprise garda officers, it is likely that this could include specialists from GNIB and the Garda Security & Intelligence Section, which has access to its own intelligence system.

S&I directs domestic security operations and liaises with foreign security and police services.

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