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Air data debate

December 14, 2011

EU interior ministers have approved a deal that will allow US authorities to access personal data of European air passengers for up to 15 years. The agreement comes despite privacy concerns from Austria and Germany.

A passenger checks in at an airport
Passengers' details would be available for up to 15 yearsImage: AP

The EU appeared ready to sign an agreement with the US on Wednesday that will see air passengers' details shared with Washington.

EU ministers met on Tuesday to discuss the Passenger Name Records (PNR) agreement, which allows US authorities to access and store data including credit card numbers and address details of passengers flying to the States.

"The use of PNR data (will be) limited to the prevention, detection, investigation and prosecution of terrorist offences or transnational crime," said a statement from the EU Council.

The deal came despite objections from Germany over one clause that allowed personal data to be accessed for up to 15 years in the event of a terror investigation. In other cases, it could be stored for 10 years.

Hans-Peter Friedrich
Friedrich abstained from the vote by ministersImage: dapd

"Under these circumstances we cannot agree," German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich said after abstaining on Tuesday. Austria was reported to have similar concerns, but the two countries were unable to block the deal.

Stronger privacy rules

Similar arrangements have been in force on a provisional basis since 2007, but the parliament called for a renegotiation with stronger privacy guarantees.

A draft agreement had been criticized because it would have allowed investigators free access to all personal information. Under the new arrangements, contact information would be masked out but would become available in the case of an inquiry.

Once signed, the deal would still need to be approved by the European Parliament.

Lawmakers last month agreed to an EU-Australia PNR agreement, and are expected to consider a deal with Canada in the next few months.

Author: Richard Connor (AFP, AP, dpa)
Editor: Andreas Illmer