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Lobby group sues US govt over passenger data

EFF wants to know how data is used

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The US Government faces a lawsuit demanding information about the controversial programme which forces airlines to disclose information about European travellers to the US.

The suit follows the government's apparent refusal to give up information following a freedom of information request.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the digital rights group, has filed the case against the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The suit demands that the DHS release records about how collected data is handled, maintained, used, disclosed and secured.

The EU and the US agreed a controversial deal in 2004 which forced airlines to disclose information to the US. The European Parliament objected to the deal and the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled it illegal.

The ECJ's decision said that the previous agreement broke European rules on a technicality after the European Parliament had opposed it on grounds of substance. The substance of the deal was never tested by the ECJ, which made no further decision once it found the technical flaw in its implementation.

The EU and US then agreed a very similar deal which critics said granted the US even more power to gather and process data, but which the European Commission said gave it more control over data. That deal is an interim one, and a new agreement must be signed on a more permanent basis by next summer.

The deal means that 34 pieces of information about passengers gathered by airlines at the time of booking are automatically passed to US authorities before a plane even lands in the US.

The EFF is now seeking information about the handling of that data. "Travellers may give up a lot of personal information when they make flight reservations," said Marcia Hofmann, an attorney at the EFF. "Those travelling between Europe and the United States deserve to know who gets to see that data, how the information is protected, and whether those practices comply with EU law.

The EFF had previously asked for that information under the Freedom of Information Act, but the DHS failed to respond to their request, it said.

The case has been filed under the Freedom of Information Act (FoI) in the District Court of the District of Columbia seeking access to records under the FoI Act.

Copyright © 2006, OUT-LAW.com

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

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