Saturday, June 30, 2007

EU strikes deal with US on passenger data

EU strikes deal with US on passenger data
By Andrew Bounds in Brussels
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: June 29 2007 19:57 | Last updated: June 29 2007 19:57

European countries endorsed a controversial deal to share information on airline passengers with the US in a move that should avert the threat of transatlantic travel chaos this summer.

European Union ambassadors meeting in Brussels reached a “basic political understanding” on the issue, according to Germany, which chaired the talks. Several countries said they could not commit before their parliaments had debated the issue but did not dispute the substance of the deal reached, diplomats said.

The accord, which replaces an interim agreement due to expire at the end of July, will increase from three to 15 years the time that US authorities can hold passenger data such as names, payment details and seat numbers. Under the deal, EU airlines must provide 19 pieces of information, down from 34, shortly before take-off.

Wolfgang Schäuble, German interior minister, Fran co Frattini, EU justice commissioner, and Michael Chertoff, US homeland security secretary, struck the agreement on Wednesday.

Mr Chertoff says that the deal is not legally binding but Brussels regards it as an international agreement that could be revoked if not complied with. “We can cut off the flow if we are not satisfied,” said one official. However, that would lead the US to ban airlines that refuse to supply the information.

Critics say the deal would allow the Department of Homeland Security as well as US customs access to the data and there are insufficient limitations on how it can share it with other law enforcement agencies, such as the CIA. The US is obliged to filter out sensitive data such as dietary requirements – a clue to religion – unless it is essential to preventing loss of life.


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