27th May 2019

US presses European airlines on data access

  • The European Commission recognised that the data flow to the US is in breach of the EU Data Protection Directive (Photo: European Commission)

The US has imposed a new deadline of 12 September on European airlines to give it access to the Passenger Name Record data (PNR) of those travelling to the US, otherwise they will face fines or lose landing rights.

Airline companies among them Air France, BA and Iberia, have been supplying the US with this information since 5 March 2003, but the US has now extended this deadline to the other smaller airlines, like SAS and Alitalia.

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"If we don’t follow the US request, we can’t fly to the US", Bertil Ternert, Director Corporate Communications at SAS told the EUobserver, although he added that the airline understands the US’ concerns.

Alitalia is also being put in a difficult situation, as the Italian national privacy watchdog banned the airline company from passing on the information requested by the US, apart from passport data.

The European Commission recognised that the data flow to the US is in breach of the EU Data Protection Directive and it still feels that the US has not provided sufficient guarantees on the level of data protection.

Security concerns

After the attacks of 11 September 2001, the US made it mandatory for airlines to provide the US with electronic access to PNR data – which includes 39 different elements like credit card information, addresses and the passenger’s meal choice.

The US has refused to limit the use of PNR data to the fight against terrorism but wants to also extend it to "other serious criminal offences".

It also wants to keep this data for six to seven years, whereas the EU envisages this to be only for some months.

However bilateral negotiations over these issues were described as "disappointing" by Internal Market Commissioner Frits Bolkestein.

"It is clear that the present situation – which is at best legally fragile – cannot be allowed to continue", he told the European Parliament citizens’ rights committee on Tuesday (9 September).

Frits Bolkestein said that by Christmas this year the Commission would review how far the negotiations went.

A meeting is scheduled for 22 September with the deputy of the US Homeland Security Secretary Asa Hutchinson, followed by a discussion within the Commission in October.

The Commission is not excluding that in the case of lack of progress, a bilateral agreement with the US could be negotiated, although this would be with the support of Council and European Parliament.

"I admit that the negotiations with the US are not always easy", Commissioner Bolkestein said.

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