EU questions US over new air data system
14.12.06 @ 09:24
STRASBOURG - The European Union has sent a letter asking US authorities to clarify how its new traveller security-screening system will use data on European citizens, with senior officials expressing concern it might violate an EU-US deal on data-protection.
The deal, agreed in October, gives the US department of homeland security (DHS) easier access to EU citizens' passenger name records (PNR) via air carriers, but puts limits on how that information can be used.
The personal records transferred by transatlantic air carriers 15 minutes before departure contain 34 pieces of data, including credit card, passport details, e-mail addresses and travel itinerary.
EU justice and home affairs commissioner Franco Frattini said Wednesday (13 December) alarm bells rang when the DHS last month published information about its automated targeting system (ATS) – a computer intranet that assesses risk on international travellers, relying among other things on PNR data.
"We have sent today a letter to the US government to ask formal confirmation that the way European PNR data are handled in the ATS is the one described in the undertakings," Mr Frattini told European lawmakers meeting in Strasbourg.
"The information published by the DHS reveals a significant difference between the way in which PNR data are handled within the automated targeting system and a stricter regime for European PNR data according to undertakings," he added.
The European Commission and Finland – the current holder of the EU's six-month rotating presidency – jointly sent the letter on Wednesday.
The letter asks for clarification in "particular with regards to data-retention times, the release of data to third parties and purpose limitation," Finnish European Affairs minister Paula Lehtomäki said in Strasbourg.
The current EU-US agreement on PNR will expire in July 2007. However, the plan is to have more permanent plans in place by that time with efforts already underway to start controversial talks on the sharing of private data of EU citizens with US authorities.