Airline passenger data deal struck

Push-me, pull-you

European Union and US negotiators have struck a new deal on sharing airline passenger data, resolving concerns that failure to reach an accord before a 1 October legal deadline might affect trans-Atlantic air travel.

An agreement struck on Thursday replaced a previous agreement ruled unlawful by the European Court of Justice in May.

The previous agreement involved airlines sending 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 11 September terrorist attacks.

The European Court of Justice ruled that the agreement had no basis in EU law but permitted the practice to continue until the 30 September deadline. EU and US negotiators failed to agree on terms before this deadline. The airlines were in a difficult position - in theory, at least - risking prosecution by data protection agencies in European countries if they complied with US rules and fines of up to $6,000 per passenger and loss of landing rights if they failed to co-operate with US authorities.

The new agreement, hammered out over video-conference, will allow US authorities to distribute passenger data outside the Customs and Border Protection agency. It will apply until the end of July 2007. The previous scheme allowed border protection officers to "pull" data from airline systems, whereas under the new arrangement data will be "pushed" to the US Department of Homeland Security, which will distribute it to US counter-terrorism and border control agencies, the BBC reports.

"This new agreement will provide a possibility of giving passenger data to the US authorities while guaranteeing sufficient data protection," said Leena Luhtanen, Justice Minister of Finland, the country currently in the rotating EU presidency hot-seat.

EU justice ministers are due to meet later on Friday to discuss the new arrangement, which is likely to be formally accepted next week. ®

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