Customs to airlines: Give details of foreign travellers for ‘risk analysis’

THE CENTRAL Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs (CBIC) has asked airlines to mandatorily share PNR (passenger name record) details of all international passengers with the National Customs Targeting Centre-Passenger, 24 hours prior to departure of flights.

Airline officials said the move creates a standardised process of passenger data sharing with the Customs department, given that non-standard requests for passenger data could potentially lead to privacy infringements.

As per the CBIC notification issued on Monday, airlines will have to share 19 data points with the authorities, including name of the passenger, date of intended travel, all available contact details, all available payment or billing information such as credit card numbers, travel status of the passenger that includes confirmation and check-in status, baggage information, seat information, and travel agency or agent from where the ticket was issued.

At present, airlines are required to share passenger information limited to name, nationality and passport details in advance with the immigration authorities.

In addition to the Customs department, law enforcement agencies or government departments of India or any other country can also get access to the data “on a case-to-case” basis, subject to maintenance of the same level of information protection, privacy and safeguards, provided the agencies specify the purpose of the information being sought.

The move to gather the data, which is being done by the CBIC with the objective of conducting “risk analysis” of passengers, comes close on the heels of the Centre junking its proposed personal data protection framework in favour of a new set of legislation, which effectively extends the time frame for establishing a rulebook for the protection of citizens’ personal data.

The CBIC notified the ‘Passenger Name Record Information Regulations, 2022’, aimed at “risk analysis” of passengers to prevent economic and other offenders from fleeing the country as well as check any illicit trade.

According to information shared by the government in Lok Sabha in September 2020, 38 persons involved in cases registered by CBI related to financial irregularities with banks fled the country from January 1, 2015 to December 31, 2019. Under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002, applications for Red Corner Notices were filed against 20 persons, extradition requests were sent to various countries for 14 persons, and applications under Fugitive Economic Offenders Act, 2018 were filed against 11 persons.

With this, India joins a list of over 60 countries, including the US, that have regulations on sharing prior information with Customs and border control authorities. “The objective is to collect advance information on passengers for better risk profiling. Immigration data is available only after the arrival or departure of passengers,” a senior CBIC official told The Indian Express.

The consent will be “manifested” by the person’s registration in the passengers’ list of the aircraft operator and the data will be recorded for prevention, detection, investigation and prosecution of offences under the Customs Act.

Earlier this year, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) – a trade body representing global airlines – had written to the Ministry of Civil Aviation flagging non-standard requests raised by law enforcement and investigative authorities for seeking passenger details.

According to experts, this will provide a consolidated database on a government portal for risk analysis of passengers. “The objective is to obtain relevant passenger data for risk analysis to proactively prevent, detect, investigate or prosecute offences under the Customs law or any other domestic or international law. The onus of timely collecting and sharing such information has been put on the airline operators. Further, while strict privacy guidelines have been stipulated under the said regulations, the government should ensure that the same are duly enforced to prevent unauthorised usage,” said Abhishek Jain, Partner, Indirect Tax, KPMG in India.

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