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Passenger data deal for US and EU

BBC | October 6 2006

The US and the European Union have struck a new deal for sharing airline passenger data.

The new interim agreement will replace a deal struck down by the European Court of Justice in May, that allowed the US access to 34 pieces of data.

The US has sought information about air travellers since the 9/11 attacks.

EU officials described the deal, which came after nine hours of negotiations by video conference, as a "very important result" for the EU.

The previous deal lapsed on 1 October when both sides failed to agree on terms for a renewal.

The new accord will expire at the end of July 2007.

Negotiations over a permanent deal will begin during an EU diplomatic visit to Washington in November.

Justice ministers from across the EU are scheduled to meet later on Friday to discuss the deal, which could be formally approved next week.

New safeguards

EU Justice Commissioner Franco Frattini said new mechanisms had been agreed to distribute data from airlines to the US.

US officials will now only be able to access data by having information "pushed" from airline computer systems.

Previously the US could "pull" data from the systems whenever it was needed.

Information will be sent to the US Department of Homeland Security, which will "facilitate" any wider distribution among other US counter-terrorism agencies, Mr Frattini said.

Addressing concerns over wider distribution of EU data, Mr Frattini said the new deal allowed easier distribution of data, but would not allow "unconditional direct electronic access" by agencies such as the FBI.

The new "push" system would be tested before the end of the year, Mr Frattini said.

Fines concern

Airlines had been pushing for a new agreement ever since the 2004 version was ruled invalid by the European Court of Justice.

US law requires airlines to submit passenger information so government agencies can work to spot potential terrorists.

Carriers who fail to provide information are liable for fines of up to $6,000 per passenger or withdrawal of landing rights.

Although the EU wanted simply to revive the previous deal - without the legal technicality that saw it struck down - US Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff asked for the new version to include provision to distribute data outside the Customs and Border Protection agency.

Announcing the deal at a news conference in Luxembourg, Finland's Justice Minister Leena Luhtanen, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, said the new agreement was the best solution for all sides.

"This new agreement will provide a possibility of giving passenger data to the US authorities while guaranteeing sufficient data protection," she said.

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