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US using EU airline data to ‘test’ CAPPS II snoop system

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Airline data on EU citizens is being used by the US Transport Security Administration for "testing" of the controversial CAPPS II (Computer Assisted Passenger Pre-Screening System). This is quite handy for the TSA, given that Congress won't let it use CAPPS II on US citizens yet, but is not quite what we understood from the deal the EU struck with the US last month.

In his list of hard-wrung "concessions" EU Commissioner Frits Bolkestein said that the deal did not cover CAPPS II, but the US at the time said that Brussels had committed to "rapid negotiations" for the inclusion of CAPPS II, and as we noted at the time, "this concession only counts as a concession if the Commission has stopped the US experimenting on foreigners." Which it turns out it hasn't.

According to European Digital Rights (EDRi), Commission spokesman Jonathan Todd admitted in an interview with German public TV station WDR that the agreement allows "that the TSA may use data for testing purposes. But that includes an obligation not to use the data operationally, to delete them after the test phase and not to pass them on to third parties." Aside from not mentioning this (indeed, implying the contrary) when announcing the agreement, the Commission was silent on whatever safeguards it may or may not have implemented in order for this to have been permitted. There is, one might suspect, a certain implausibility to the US using live data under the public agreement, using the same data under the shadier CAPPS II testing agreement, and then not finding itself (oops...) getting mixed up.

Andreas Dietl, EU Affairs Director of EDRi, says this amounts to Bolkestein trying to mislead the European Parliament about the nature of the draft agreement. "It is now clear that the Commission has agreed to the abuse of EU citizen's personal data to test a surveillance system that in its very nature is against the principles of EU data protection legislation. The claim by the U.S. that the data used for testing purposes will be deleted thereafter is merely a joke: The data will still be available in the Computerized Reservation System (CRS), where it can be accessed by government agencies at any time."

Dietl says that Bolkestein has come close to lying to Parliament, and that the US will feed operational CAPPS II data into the broader US-VISIT system, which will assemble data on visitors to the US, with a 100 year retention period. "If the Commission does not stop the transfer of personal data from the EU now," he says, "it is time to take them to the European Court of Justice for breach of Article 25 of the EU Data Protection Directive 95/46/EC." ®

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