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EC veep calls for passenger data sharing, US-style

Plan raises security versus privacy debate

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The vice president of the European Commission wants airlines to provide passenger data to government security services for all flights within Europe. A similar plan for flights to the US was recently vetoed by the European Parliament.

Commission vice president Franco Frattini is responsible for justice and security and is yet to make a formal proposal to the commission, but he is determined to see passenger name records (PNR) passed to governments for European flights. "He came up with the idea in London last week where he was discussing terrorism," said a spokesman for Frattini.

The move comes as 11 people are charged in relation to alleged plans to blow up airliners bound for America from the UK. "After events in London, he decided to step up security a level," said the spokesman.

The sharing of passenger data has proved highly controversial. An agreement between the US and the European Commission to force airlines to give US authorities 34 pieces of information per passenger was opposed by the European Parliament and declared illegal by the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

"The proposal is that European governments have access to the same 34 pieces of information on exactly the same principles as that with the US," said the spokesman for Frattini. "The information would be handed to the government of the country a person was flying to and would only be used for anti-terrorism purposes."

Data would be likely to be held for three years, as in the US deal, said the spokesman. The plan must be formally put to the commission and then to the Council of Ministers for approval.

The commission has until September to come up with a new agreement with the US. It says the new agreement will be substantially the same as the old one, but will comply with the ECJ's demand for a technical legal amendment.

The ECJ said the agreement was drafted in relation to the wrong European laws and was therefore illegal; this meant the Court did not proceed to rule on the Parliament's concerns about data protection. The commission claimed this as a victory for the content of its deal, something on which the Court has not yet had the opportunity to rule.

"The commission seems to be going down the path of exploiting the ECJ judgment. It announced that the content of the current agreement has not been criticised by the Court and should therefore continue," said Dr Chris Pounder, a data protection specialist with Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind OUT-LAW.COM. "This is economical with the truth. Because the Court ruled that the agreement was unlawful it didn't deal with the substantial data protection issues raised by the Parliament. These still remain."

The European Data Protection supervisor had joined the European Parliament in expressing concerns about the data protection implications of the US plan. "My own view is that the Information Commissioners have been sidelined," said Pounder. "The working party [Article 29 Working Party on data protection] said that this is excessive, and the European Commission are saying 'look, we're having security responsibilities, the privacy angle must take second place'."

Frattini's office recognises that the decision will provoke some anger. "This will be somewhat controversial, there will be some countries that will be reluctant to comply," the spokesman said.

See: Details of data protection update training sessions in London, Glasgow and Manchester

Copyright © 2006, OUT-LAW.com

OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

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