EU To Give US Homeland Security Sensitive Passenger Data

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Common Dreams

EU To Give US Homeland Security Sensitive Passenger Data

by
Common Dreams staff

Members of the European Parliament take part in a demonstration against the EU-USA agreement on the use and transfer of air passenger personal data ahead of a vote on the subject at the European Parliament in Strasbourg April 19, 2012.

The European Union has agreed to pass on sensitive information on passengers flying from Europe to the United States to the US Department of Homeland Security. The European Parliament approved the new accord by a 409-226 vote on Thursday.

Members of the European Parliament have battled for more than five years to scale back prior agreements that allowed the US to access and store air passenger data, calling it an invasion of privacy that can lead to false arrests. Many MEPs are concerned that the agreement paves the way for curtailing civil liberties for Europe's 500 million citizens.

Under the new agreement, airline companies will have to make details of passengers' date of birth, credit card number, seat number and dietary preference available to US authorities prior to departure. The United States will be able to access and store the detailed personal information of airline passengers for up to 15 years.

Jan Philipp Albrecht, home affairs spokesman for the Green Party, said the vote had reversed parliament's role as a defender of civil liberties and endorsed "big brother style surveillance". He added that there was "no evidence" that the "disproportionate" measures did anything to ensure greater security.

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Reuters reports:

BRUSSELS -- European lawmakers agreed on Thursday to provide U.S. authorities with data on passengers flying from Europe to the United States, backing down after years of resisting a move the United States says is critical to its national security.

Members of the European Parliament have battled for more than five years to scale back agreements that allow the United States to access and store air passenger data, calling it an invasion of privacy that can lead to false arrests.

But the chamber voted in favor of a revised agreement by 409 votes to 226. [...]

In a testy and sometimes heated debate, parliamentarians from the Liberal grouping argued that the agreement undermined passengers' right to privacy and risked curtailing civil liberties for Europe's 500 million citizens.

Those in favor, largely from the conservative majority in parliament, maintained that the agreement ensured adequate personal protection while improving security.

Prior to departure airlines must make the data available to U.S. authorities, including the names, addresses, credit card details and seat numbers of the travelers.

Lawmakers who had opposed the agreement cited evidence that U.S. authorities gained access to passengers' data directly in airlines' IT systems, and said Washington had not met a previous agreement to stop such "pulling" of passenger data by January 2008.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has written several times to the European Commission since 2007, saying it would stop pulling data once airlines made necessary upgrades to their computer systems.

But the European Commission, the EU executive, said U.S. authorities had agreed only to use this method in exceptional circumstances "to prevent an urgent and a serious threat".

An industry source who did not wish to be identified said that last month U.S. authorities accessed data from one large European airline 7,000 times, requesting additional information on about 5 percent of its passengers who flew to the United States.

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Public Service Europe reports:

"Big brother style surveillance"There was sharp criticism from some MEPs. Jan Philipp Albrecht, home affairs spokesman for the Green group, said the vote had reversed parliament's role as a defender of civil liberties and endorsed "big brother style surveillance". He added that there was "no evidence" that the "disproportionate" measures did anything to ensure greater security. Likewise Cornelia Ernst MEP, from the European United Left/Nordic Green Left group, warned the agreement provided "additional means for the monitoring of citizens and the profiling of travelers' behavior with completely unreasonable and disproportionate storage time for data".

Parliament's rapporteur on the agreement, Alliance of Liberals and Democrats MEP Sophie in't Veld, had recommended that her colleagues reject the deal, and withdrew her name from the report after the vote. She said it fell short of the "high standards of data privacy and legal protection that our citizens expect" and expressed disappointment that "we only got an agreement that gets reluctant support".

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