EU to give US passengers credit card details

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The European Union has agreed to pass on information on passengers flying from Europe to the United States to US authorities to facilitate the war on terror. A new accord, which will replace existing agreements, was approved by the European Parliament on Thursday.

Several members of the European Parliament have battled for more than five years to scale back agreements that allow 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.

But the chamber voted in favour of a revised agreement by 409 votes to 226, backing a position already adopted by the EU's 27 member states.

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. Fight transnational crime The European commissioner for home affairs, Cecilia Malmstrom, said the deal provided a stronger right to citizens' privacy as well as more legal certainty for airlines.

"At the same time, it fully meets the security needs of the United States of America and the EU. Under the new agreement, data of passengers travelling to the United States of America will be used to fight serious transnational crime and terrorism," she said.

As part of the agreement, the US agreed to mask out passengers' names and contact details after six months. The data will then be kept for up to five years, after which point it will move to a "dormant" database for 10 years more.

Washington breaks the rules The US ambassador to the European Union, William Kennard, welcomed the vote, saying passenger data "has aided nearly every high profile terrorist investigation in recent years", including bombings in New York and a 2008 attack in Mumbai.

MEPs who had opposed the agreement cited evidence that US 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.

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.  

© Radio Netherlands Worldwide

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