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EU to Sign Air Traveler Data Transfer Deal With U.S.

May 18, 2004

EU to Sign Air Traveler Data Transfer Deal With U.S.
May 18, 2004 – Next week, the European Union will sign a controversial air passenger data transfer agreement with the United States. This deal comes despite opposition from the European Parliament, said Jonathan Todd, a spokesman from the European Commission, on Monday.

The decision comes after the EC said on Monday it had secured guarantees from the U.S. government to protect the personal data of passengers flying to the U.S. The European Parliament made a request last month to wait until the European Court of Justice had given its opinion on whether this deal breaches EU data protection rules.

Under the agreement, Washington is allowed to collect 34 types of data from passengers’ records, including name, address, phone number, credit cards and their traveling companions.

The U.S. will store this data for three and a half years, instead of 50 years, but with the possibility to retain certain data for a longer period of time. The U.S. will also be able to release such information to third countries, an issue that has concerned some EP members.

After the Sept. 11 attacks, the U.S. had demanded access to airlines’ booking records to help it fight terrorist threats. Since March 2003, airlines have faced the possibility of fines of 6,000 euro per passenger or potentially losing their landing rights in the U.S. if they failed to provide U.S. security agencies passenger data within 15 minutes of a flight’s departure.

Last December, after a year of negotiation, the United States and the EU reached a preliminary agreement on the legal transfer of this information. However, on April 21 of this year, the EP said that the transfer of such personal data breached EU privacy laws, and voted to refer the matter to the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg. According to Jonathan, the EC had informed the EP before it took the formal decision of signing the deal.

European airlines have already passed on passenger data to U.S. authorities since March 2003.

"The difference (of making the deal) is that the EU passengers’ data can get better protection," said Jonathan.

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