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European Union and US negotiators have failed to reach a deal on sharing passenger data by Saturday's (30 September deadline), creating a legal vacuum over the Atlantic.

US Homeland Security Secretary, Michael Chertoff, tried to allay concerns that difficulties in reaching an agreement might affect trans-Atlantic air travel. "The talks did not break down," Chertoff told AP. “Their delegation had to go home and that's fine."

An agreement would have meant airlines had the legal all clear to send 34 items of data — including passengers' names, addresses and credit card details — about people flying from European to US destinations to US authorities within 15 minutes of a plane's departure. The procedures were put in place after the September 11 terrorist attacks.

The European Court of Justice ruled in May that the agreement had no basis in EU law but permitted the practice to continue until the 30 September deadline. Airlines that fail to abide by US procedures risk fines of up to $6,000 per passenger and loss of landing rights. In theory, airlines who comply with US laws now risk prosecution by data protection agencies in European countries. Chertoff said that airlines would continue to comply with US rules despite this danger, which he downplayed.

Chertoff said he had been assured that European airlines would continue to transmit passenger data and said he did not think European governments would penalize them for doing so.

"There's no intention for them [airlines] to interfere with the continued transmission. I don't envision that while we're in these discussions any country in Europe is going to take some precipitous step to put the airlines in a difficult position," he added. ®

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