Expatica news

EU gives US access to passenger details

17 December 2003

AMSTERDAM — European airlines will in future be required to allow the American government access under a new anti-terrorism deal to a total of 34 personal details about each passenger flying into the US.

Dutch EU Commissioner Frits Bolkestein said the information includes the name, departure date and the credit card number of passengers who have paid for their ticket via credit card.

It also includes the number of passengers travelling together and how many bags they had. What it means is that most personal details provided at check-in will be forwarded to US authorities.

And after strong protests about loss of privacy, Bolkestein finally reached an accord after drawn-out negotiations with US authorities and informed a European Parliament committee in Strasbourg about the accord on Tuesday, newspaper De Telegraaf reported.

“The EU cannot refuse its ally in the fight against terrorism … but a balance had to be found,” Bolkestein said.

European Commission spokesman Jonathan Todd confirmed the EU executive would soon adopt a decision to allow the transfer of data with US, Reuters reported.

The US is requesting the information to assist in its ongoing “war on terror” and its efforts against organised crime. After the 11 September terror attacks in 2001, the US also passed a law obliging domestic airlines to pass on such data, BBC reported.

Following pressure from Washington, almost all European airlines — except for Italian flag carrier Alitalia — are already supplying the US with the information. This is despite the fact they risk being sued by passengers for breaching EU laws.

Dutch flag carrier KLM reported in May it was adjusting its reservation system in a pre-emptive move to prevent the US gaining access to the details of passengers not traveling to the US. A spokesman told Expatica on Tuesday, KLM was the only airline taking such a precautionary approach.

But the spokesman also said it was not yet certain how the US will gain access to the personal data. He said the details could be gained by requesting more information at check-in or allowing the US continued access to reservation systems, requiring a filter to restrict the amount of available details.

The US had initially asked EU Internal Markets Commissioner Bolkestein to agree on the supply of more extensive personal details. The Americans also wanted to use the information for a broader range of purposes.

But Bolkestein opposed the full extent of US demands in a bid to protect the privacy of passengers and the US agreed to request fewer details (34 instead of 39). The data may only be stored for a maximum of 3.5 years.

Furthermore, the details cannot be used to fight domestic crime, meaning the FBI will not gain access to them. A spokesman from the US Department of Homeland Security has been quoted as saying: “There was pain on both sides, but we have come up with a very solid middle ground”.

The EU and the US have agreed to reassess the law after 3.5 years.

[Copyright Expatica News 2003]

Subject: Dutch news