European parliamentarians have approved a controversial data-sharing deal with the US. Proponents argue that it will make travel more safe, but critics say it violates the rights of EU citizens.
The European Parliament has approved a controversial agreement that will give US authorities access to data on passengers flying from European Union destinations to the United States.
The approval, which came after more than two years of wrangling, was approved by a vote in the Strasbourg-based parliament of 409 in favor, 226 against and 33 abstentions.
The Passenger Name Record (PNR) agreement will allow the US Department of Homeland Security to keep the data it receives on European travelers in its transparent form for a maximum of five years. After six months it will be required to encrypt the names or contact details of the passengers. After the five years, the US authorities will keep the data for a further five years, but it will be moved to a "dormant" database with more restricted access.
The data, which is to be gathered by air carriers during flight reservations and check-in, is to include a passenger's name, address, phone number and credit card details, But it will also include information that some may consider to be more sensitive, such as meal choices based on religious grounds or requests a passenger makes for assistance due to a medical condition.
The US first began pushing for Europe to hand over extensive data on its citizens after the September 11, 2001 terror attacks in New York and Washington.
Deal welcomed by Washington
The approval of the deal has been welcomed by officials on both sides of the Atlantic.
The US ambassador to the European Union, William E. Kennard said the agreement "reaffirms the shared commitment of the United States and the European Union to the security of the travelling public."
The deal, which was approved by EU interior ministers last December, replaces an interim deal that had been in placed for the past five years.
"The new agreement is a substantial improvement on the existing agreement from 2007," European Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem said.
Data protection concerns
Despite the fact that the deal was passed by a large majority, significant concerns remained about the possible damage the agreement could represent to the rights of EU citizens.
The deal "unfortunately still falls short of the high standards of data privacy and legal protection that our citizens expect," said Sophie in'T Veld, a liberal MEP from the Netherlands.
German Social Democrat MEP Birti Sippel said she objected to the deal because it "places all citizens under general suspicion and hands them over to the justice system of the United States, instead of defending our values."
pfd/mz (AFP, dpa, AP)