MEPs reject US passenger details deal
1 April 2004
AMSTERDAM — Despite the recent Madrid bomb attacks and renewed calls on the EU to step up the fight against terrorism, the European Parliament has rejected an accord reached with the US over the supply of airline passenger details, claiming it violates European privacy.
The criticism comes despite the fact that Dutch EU Internal Markets Commissioner Frits Bolkestein said the December 2003 deal with the US was the best that could be achieved.
The agreement allows US authorities to force European airlines to supply 34 personal details — such as credit card numbers and email addresses — about passengers boarding flights to the US.
The US hoped the deal will assist its war against terror by deterring would-be terrorists from boarding US-bound flights, newspaper De Volkskrant reported on Wednesday.
After the 11 September terror attacks in 2001, the US passed a law obliging domestic airlines to pass on such data.
But members of the European Parliament (MEPs) voted against the transatlantic accord (229 votes against and 202 votes for). MEPs, opposed to the deal, said the accord offered insufficient guarantees for the protection of passenger privacy and that the US needed to respect European wishes.
“We want Bolkestein to negotiate again with the Americans so that a better guarantee comes of it,” said Dutch Democrat D66 European MP Johanna Boogerd, who lodged the resolution to reject the accord.
“The arrangement must be in harmony with the regulations for the protection of privacy. Moreover, they must be proportional.”
The parliament does not believe the deal is adequate as it stands, claiming that the US is demanding too many personal details.
The supply of credit card numbers, for example, will enable the US to trace previous flights that passengers have made. The parliament also said the deal allowed the US to hold the details for too long.
The vote in the European Parliament in Strasbourg is not binding, but Boogerd said the Parliament will take the matter to the European Court in Luxembourg if the European Commission refuses to comply with the resolution.
A spokesman for Bolkestein refused to comment on the matter on Wednesday.
But the chance that Bolkestein will re-open negotiations with the US is quite small because he said during the parliamentary debate that he had tried everything he could to achieve the best deal.
The US had initially asked Bolkestein to agree on the supply of more extensive personal details and he questioned on Wednesday whether it was realistic to expect the renewed negotiations will result in the US yielding more ground.
It is also uncertain whether the EC is concerned about the Parliament’s threat to take the matter to court. Bolkestein has constantly said that the protection of privacy is a matter for national governments and not Brussels.
He also said the only goal of the accord is to prevent airlines being handled differently, giving rising to the possibility of unfair competition.
[Copyright Expatica News 2004]
Subject: Dutch news