Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2004/05/18/ministers_ok_pnr_deal/

Ministers thwart MEPs, OK EU-US airline data deal

CAPPS II, here we come...

By John Lettice

Posted in Media, 18th May 2004 15:41 GMT

In a salutary reminder of how democratic the European Union really is, EU foreign ministers have rubber-stamped the European Commission's deal with the US to hand over airline passenger data (passenger name records, PNR). The Commission had deliberately constructed the deal in a way that allowed it to be implemented without the approval of the European Parliament (which went to court over the issue), so by signing it off the foreign ministers have effectively made it live.

Parliament voted last month to refer the deal, which quite clearly breaches EU privacy legislation, to the European Court of Justice. The court was expected to rule shortly, but the intervention of the ministers effectively spikes the case.

The Commission's argument in favour of the deal is that it had won major concessions during the negotiations with the US (it had not), and that refusing to agree to US demands would result in chaos in transatlantic flights, with airlines forced to decide whether they preferred being fined by the US or the EU, or simply grounding themselves. And of course there's 'vital in the war on terror' argument. The airline industry meanwhile simply howled about the irresponsibility of the Parliament, whose challenge threatened to unleash that chaos and impact their revenues. This friends, is incidentally a clue as to why it might not be a smart idea to leave privacy to private industry, as happens in the US.

And while we're on incidentals, it might be worth pointing out that stand-offs cut both ways, and that in this case Europe was not powerless, it merely (in the shape of the Commission) chose to be so. If our anti-democratic lords and masters would care to take a turn over to the site of the US State Department they will find a recent speech by one Colin Powell covering the subject of tourism, and stressing how important it is to the US Government not to kill the goose that's laying the golden eggs. So go figure. ®

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