EU sets sights on bloc-wide air passenger data sharing | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 02.02.2011
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EU sets sights on bloc-wide air passenger data sharing

Brussels has called on all airlines to share passenger data for flights entering and leaving the bloc in a bid to combat terrorism. The European Parliament, however, has already signalled opposition to the proposal.

Lufthansa plane

If you're on that plane, the European Union will know so

On Wednesday, the European Commission - the EU's executive - proposed that all airlines be obliged to share passenger information with authorities for flights entering and leaving the bloc in a bid to fight serious crime and terrorism.

EU home affairs commissioner, Cecilia Malmström, said on Wednesday in Brussels that the move was "essential to European security policy."

Commissioner Cecilia Malmström

Malmström called the proposal 'essential to security'

"Common EU rules are necessary to fight serious crime such as drugs smuggling and people trafficking as well as terrorism," she added.

Under the proposal, the passenger's name, billing address and credit card number among other information would be kept for 30 days by a special authority - independent of the police.

After that period, the name of the passenger must be deleted from the records, but the other data would be stored for five years.

The EU already has data sharing agreements with the United States, Canada and Australia, and some member states already keep track of passenger information, but the current proposal represents the first attempt to forge a bloc-wide passenger data sharing agreement.

European Parliament concerned

Malmström pledged in her presentation on Wednesday that the commission would create safeguards to ensure maximum protection of passengers' privacy.

Authorities, for instance, would only be allowed to use the information to combat terrorism and serious crimes, and they would be denied access to "sensitive data" such as a passenger's race or religious beliefs.

However, initial complaints of data protection abuses have already been raised by lawmakers in the European Parliament.

Birgit Sippel, a specialist on interior affairs for the Social Democrats in the parliament, warned that work will have to be done to achieve consensus between the parliament and the commission.

"It will be decisive for us to find a position that both sides can agree on. First and foremost, we need to hear from the commission what exactly they want to achieve," Sippel told Deutsche Welle.

"Then, if we do indeed intend to go through with it, we need to establish ways of organizing this data so that it doesn't get out of control and abused. In the end, we will ask that the swaps contain only very little - and targeted - information."

Data sharing for inter-EU flights temporarily on ice

Originally, Malmström wanted airlines to share passenger information on all flights in the bloc, including those between EU member states.

The commission has abandoned those plans for the time being, however, due to the large number of passengers and the high costs of setting up the operation.

The inside of the European Parliament

The European Parliament is strict on data protection

Manfred Weber, a member of the European parliament for Germany's conservative Christian Social Union, said if Malmström had pushed through with the commission's plans it would have contradicted the tenets of Europe's visa-free travel agreement.

"In the European Union, we have created the Schengen Area, and this means that citizens in Schengen countries can travel freely," Weber told Deutsche Welle.

"This was a great step forward for our union. I cannot believe that we are now looking to screen the movements of people in Europe, for this clearly contradicts free travel and the freedom of movement."

Before the flight passenger proposal can become law, it must be approved by all 27 EU governments and the European Parliament.

Author: Christoph Prössl / glb
Editor: Andreas Illmer

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