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EU And US Miss Deadline In Passenger Data Talks

by Ulrika Lomas, for LawAndTax-News.com, Brussels

03 October 2006


It emerged at the weekend that despite intensive negotiations on the matter, the United States and the European Union have missed a crucial deadline for reaching a deal on the transfer of passenger data.

In a statement, the European Commission announced that:

"Although the negotiations on a PNR (Passenger Name Records) agreement between the EU and the US could not be concluded before 1st October 2006, the timeframe provided for by the European Court of Justice in its 30th May 2006 ruling...European Commission Vice-President Franco Frattini and US Homeland Security Secretary Michael Cherftoff have agreed that the negotiations will continue in a constructive atmosphere with a view to concluding an agreement as soon as possible. Much progress has already been made."

"It is in the interests of all concerned, travellers, airlines, law enforcement agencies and data protection authorities, that a new agreement is concluded as soon possible. Vice-President Frattini is in regular contact with Secretary Chertoff and agrees on the need to reach a rapid and satisfactory agreement."

Earlier this year, the ECJ annulled a previous agreement between the European Union and the United States government regarding the handover of air passenger data to US security agencies.

In the face of grave concerns, the EC had issued assurances that the US authorities would provide the necessary privacy protections for such data. However, the ECJ disputed that decision, arguing that:

"Neither the Commission decision finding that the data are adequately protected by the United States nor the Council decision approving the conclusion of an agreement on their transfer to that country are founded on an appropriate legal basis."

Until a new agreement is reached, the Commission has urged the US to continue to apply the safeguards for PNR data that were laid down in the now-lapsed 2004 agreement, so as to minimise the risk of legal uncertainty and disruption to EU-US flights.

According to reports in the European media this week, several airlines have stated their intention to continue operating under the now-lapsed rules. However, privacy experts have warned that unless they are protected by national legislation, they could face legal action from passengers angry that their data has been transferred to the US authorities.

The draft agreement sent on September 30 by Homeland Security Secretary Chertoff to Vice President Frattini and to the Finnish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Erkki Tuomioja may be discussed during this Friday's meeting of the Council of Justice and Home Affairs Ministers in Luxembourg, in the hope of reaching an agreement that day.


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