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Passenger Data

DW staff (kj)May 15, 2007

Information gathered about passengers traveling to the United States is crucial in combating international terrorism, a US top security official said, pressing Europe to increase its data exchange with the US.

The sharing of passenger data remains controversial in the EUImage: picture-alliance / dpa

"We are all safer if we operate in a world in which intelligent use of information allows for more focussed efforts in determining who is a threat," US Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff said on Monday after a meeting with European Union lawmakers and officials.

The US and the 27-member EU are currently negotiating a permanent pact on the controversial sharing of key air passenger data which Washington requires from airlines as part of heightened security measures after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

"We need to make sure that we have to provide the civilized world with appropriate tools to identify new security threats," Chertoff told a news briefing in Brussels.

The US has called for more data-sharing, claiming that European privacy concerns had unreasonably hampered its counter-terrorism activities in the past few years.

Data flow

Under the current interim pact, European air carriers are obliged to give US authorities up to 34 pieces of information on each passenger aboard America-bound flights. The data includes credit card numbers, travel itineraries, addresses and telephone numbers.

Airlines face fines if they fail to pass on information such as credit card numbersImage: Bilderbox

Washington has warned that airlines which failed to share passenger data would face fines of up to $6,000 ($4,450) per passenger and a possible loss of landing rights.

Chertoff said that the US wanted to make sure that a new agreement, which has to be clinched by the end of July, would ensure a "sufficient period of time" for the storage of data, arguing that terrorists were planning their plots over several years.

He also said that the US was working on new legislation under which foreign air passengers travelling to the US would be required to feed their data into an online database days ahead of the trip.

This new plan would enable the US "to inform people in advance if there is going to be a problem in allowing them to travel," Chertoff said.

Kept for how long?

EU Justice Commissioner Franco Frattini said that the two sides were still disagreeing on how long US authorities should be able to use data about passengers on transatlantic flights, when it should be destroyed and which government agencies should have access to the sensitive information.

The US also wants to pull data directly from airline computers, but European countries insist airlines must transmit the information.

Deutschland Klima Luftverkehr Flugzeug Start in Düsseldorf
The date agreement will affect flights bound for the USImage: AP

EU data protection officials have demanded that personal data sent to US authorities should be made anonymous and the identity of their owner only be revealed if the data matched a profile in a terrorist database.

They have also said that a new deal on passenger data-sharing could be challenged by EU national courts.

The EU and the US are increasingly at odds over how to reconcile civil liberties with the US-led fight against terrorism.

Brussels and Washington have also locked horns over a secret agreement between the US Treasury and the Belgium-based money transfer company SWIFT, which has supplied US authorities with personal data for use in counter-terrorism inquiries.