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EU court stomps passenger data sharing

US deal illegal, say judges

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The European Court of Justice has ruled that a deal the European Commission made with the US to allow access to passenger's personal information was illegal. The data-sharing scheme was approved by all 25 member states, but annulled by judges today.

The agreement allows authorities in the US access to airlines' Passenger Name Records (PNR) as part of the the US's self-declared War on Terror. As well as names, the files can include address, date of birth, timing and duration of trips, and other data.

After the deal was struck in May 2004, members of the European Parliament appealed to the Court of Justice. They said the commission had decided US authorities would give adequate protection to data on the basis of a directive that does not cover the issues in question.

The court agreed the directive does not allow for personal data collected for commercial or service purposes to then be used for public security purposes, since public security "falls outside the scope of community law". The council of national governments was also wrong to ratify the contract, parliamentarians argued. The court again agreed, overturning both the commission's decision, and the subsequent approval.

Judges said the deal wouldn't have to wind-up until 30 September "for reasons of legal certainty". Commissioners said they would respect the court's decision and now have four months to sort out the diplomatic mess and look for an alternative solution. The government's Information Commission has denied the UK is considering a standalone bilateral PNR-sharing scheme.

It said: "It is important that there are proper data protection safeguards surrounding the transfer of airline passenger details to foreign government authorities and we have done a lot of work with other EU data protection authorities to try to ensure adequate safeguards are in put in place."

"The decision of the European Court of Justice to annul the European Commission's data protection adequacy finding was based on technical legal issues and will have no immediate impact on the flow of passenger data or UK airlines data protection compliance."

The US side of the deal was brokered by the Department of Homeland Security. Its original statement on the arrangement is here. ®

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