Monday, October 02, 2006

Data Sharing on trans-Atlantic Passengers in question.

Since 2004 and until two days ago, Europe and the US had an agreement to have passengers’ data — including their names, addresses and credit card details to be transferred to U.S. authorities within 15 minutes of a flight's departure for the United States.
But last May, the European Court of Justice said that the EU had used the wrong legal basis for the deal and then it set a Sept. 30 deadline for a new on, but talks failed over a new deal failed during the week-end.
(here, here and here)

BBC has some details on the sort of data that’s been kept so far. Up to 34 pieces of information on about each passenger can be used but there is also protected data that cannot be used, including "personal data revealing racial or ethnic origin, political opinions, religious or philosophical beliefs, trade union membership, and data concerning the health or sex life of the individual".

The idea is that the authorities should be able to construe “suspicious behavior” from the data available, so-called passenger name records (PNR).

"They have compiled a number of scenarios which they believe amount to suspicious activity and the data is screened for a match. Did the passenger pay cash, did he have baggage? And so on," says Hugo Brady of the Centre for European Reform.

The stakes are high for airlines: those that transfer information to the U.S. could face the threat of lawsuits in Europe for breaching EU data-privacy rules, while those that refuse to give the information could risk losing right to land on US soil and/or $6,000 (€4,700) fines per passenger.

As you can imagine, the talks continue...

Apparently, one of the contentious point is that the US wants to hold on to that data longer than the EU wants it to. Also, it seems that the US introduced new elements in the talks that hampered completion of an agreement, and "an EU official said that the EU wanted to give away less data, while the US wanted more" (BBC).

So should we rejoice that the EU is trying to keep the privacy of their citizens or lament over the possibility that this might hinder our safety? This blog has expressed serious doubts on the efficiency of profiling passengers in the war on terror (here) but what is certain is that the whole thing should be thought through. It is yet another issue that makes you wonder where to draw the line between individual security and privacy right.

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