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European Community officials signed off a deal to transfer airline passenger data (passenger name records, PNR) to the US authorities last Friday.

The controversial agreement goes into effect despite a vote by the European Parliament last month to refer the deal - which quite clearly breaches EU privacy legislation - to the European Court of Justice. By getting European foreign ministers to back the deal the Commission has pushed through the contentious proposals despite data privacy concerns.

The Commission has argued that these concerns were misplaced because it had won major concessions during the negotiations with the US (decide for yourself here), and that refusing to agree to US demands would result in chaos in transatlantic flights. Then there's the now familiar argument that the transfer of passenger data was vital to the 'War on Terror'.

The agreement was signed in Washington DC by US Secretary for Homeland Security Tom Ridge, Ambassador Noel Fahey of Ireland representing the EU Presidency, and Ambassador Guenter Burghardt, Head of the European Commission Delegation in Washington. "This agreement goes hand-in-hand with the Decision adopted two weeks ago by the European Commission, establishing the adequacy of US Bureau of Customs and Border Protection’s personal data protection," the Commission helpfully explains.

The Agreement and the “Adequacy finding” are linked, so that the former only remains in force as long as adequate data protection in the US is granted.

The deal provides the legal framework under which airlines can transfer passenger data to US authorities and it grants permission to US authorities to access such data held on EU territory. The US Customs and Border Protection service has made an undertaking to protect transferred data.

Which is nice.

US authorities have promised to reciprocal support for any European passenger identification system that may be adopted in the future. In the meantime there's a promise that the American's will not use the data they have obtained to discriminate against Europeans. ®

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