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DW staff (jb)January 1, 2007

Europeans who fly to the United States could have their credit card transactions and e-mail messages inspected by US officials, a British newspaper reported Monday.

Airlines have to conform to the rules if they want to fly to the USImage: AP

A US-European Union deal struck in October allows US authorities to inspect the credit card transactions of passengers who use a credit card to reserve flights, the British newspaper, the Daily Telegraph, reported Monday.

Calling it a "license to snoop" on flying Europeans, the daily added that passengers who provide an e-mail address to an airline could see other messages sent or received on that account studied by the US government.

The newspaper added that the details were revealed in briefings given by the US Department of Homeland Security to the EU and published by Britain's Department for Transport following a Freedom of Information request.

A spokesman for the British government told the Telegraph: "Every airline is obliged to conform with these rules if they wish to continue flying."

Some safeguards

As part of the terms of carriage, it is made clear to passengers what these requirements are.

"The US government has (disclosed) how this data will be used and who will see it," the British spokesman said.

Dossier E-Mail Spam Bild 3
US officials could look through passengers' email, the paper saidImage: picture-alliance/dpa

However, Shami Chakrabarti, the director of the British human rights group Liberty, told the newspaper she was horrified at the extent of the information made available.

"It is making the act of buying a ticket a gateway to a host of personal e-mail and financial information," she said. "While there are safeguards, it appears you would have to go to a US court to assert your rights."

Bureaucratic hurdles removed

With the US security clampdown that followed the attacks on September 11, 2001, the US government demanded that airlines yield full details about passengers before allowing them to land, the newspaper said.

However, EU governments threatened to impose heavy fines on the airlines for breaches of European data protection legislation.

In October, the European Union agreed to remove the "bureaucratic hurdles" preventing airlines from handing over such information after the US authorities threatened to bar European carriers.

Washington meanwhile promised to "encourage" US airlines to make similar information available to EU governments rather than force them to do so, the newspaper said.