US must prove that EU data helps fight terrorism

27th March 2007, Comments 0 comments

27 March 2007, Brussels (dpa) - The United States must prove that their disputed demands for European air passenger data are effective in the US-led fight against terrorism, Germany's top data protection official said. The US and the European Union are currently negotiating a permanent pact on the controversial sharing of key air passenger data which Washington requires from airlines as part of heightened security measures after the September 11 terrorist attacks. "There must be proof (that such data are u

27 March 2007

Brussels (dpa) - The United States must prove that their disputed demands for European air passenger data are effective in the US-led fight against terrorism, Germany's top data protection official said.

The US and the European Union are currently negotiating a permanent pact on the controversial sharing of key air passenger data which Washington requires from airlines as part of heightened security measures after the September 11 terrorist attacks.

"There must be proof (that such data are useful in fighting terrorism), there must be an independent audit or a joint review, including European data protection authorities," German data protection commissioner Peter Schaar told reporters ahead of a hearing in the European Parliament.

Schaar warned that new deal, which needs to be clinched by the end of July, might even result in a lower level of data protection than was guaranteed under previous agreements.

The US has called for more data-sharing, claiming that European privacy concerns had unreasonably hampered its counter-terrorism activities in the past few years.

Under the current interim pact, European air carriers are obliged to give US authorities up to 34 pieces of information on each passenger aboard America-bound flights. The data includes credit card numbers, travel itineraries, addresses and telephone numbers.

Schaar said that personal data sent to US authorities should be made anonymous and the identity of their owner only be revealed if the data matched a profile in a terrorist database.

He also called for introducing a system under which data would be "pushed" to US authorities on specific request, rather than allowing the agency to "pull" the information from European airline computers.

A new data sharing deal has to be in place by the end of July to replace a current interim pact.

However, Schaar cautioned that "many, many questions remain and we are far from a solution."

Washington has warned that airlines which failed to share passenger data would face fines of up to 6,000 dollars per passenger and a possible loss of landing rights.

Greek Socialist MEP Stavros Lambrinidis, vice-chair of the EU parliament's Civil Liberties Committee, said that the transatlantic privacy quarrels were sign of a "philosophical confusion between the EU and the US concerning terrorism."

"We have to look for a general understanding with the US on what is necessary to catch terrorists," Lambrinidis said.

Lambrinidis said that the EU should not only be concerned about data protection, "but also see if the data are really necessary, appropriate and important" in fighting terrorism.

Schaar added that a new transatlantic air passenger data deal could be challenged by national courts.

Agreement on a new deal on sharing passenger data was required after the EU's top court annulled an earlier transatlantic accord on air passenger data exchange.

However, the court's objections related to the legal basis of the pact, not its actual contents.

The EU and the US are increasingly at odds over how to reconcile civil liberties with the US-led fight against terrorism.

European lawmakers have warned repeatedly that the privacy rights of EU citizens are currently unprotected against mistakes or abuse by US authorities.

Brussels and Washington are also at loggerheads over a secret agreement between the US Treasury and the Belgium-based money transfer company SWIFT, which has supplied US authorities with personal data for use in counter-terror inquiries.

DPA

Subject: German news

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