5th Aug 2020

Transatlantic air travel left in legal limbo

The EU and US missed a Saturday (30 September) deadline for signing a new deal on air passenger data transfers which leaves airlines providing transatlantic travel in a legal limbo.

The European Commission noted that the two parties agreed for the negotiations to "continue in a constructive atmosphere with a view to concluding an agreement as soon as possible."

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Several airline companies confirmed that they will keep operating under previous rules and - if asked to - give US officials personal details of passengers travelling to the States, such as names, addresses or credit card numbers.

However, in theory, unless they are covered by national laws which also require them to do so, they could be sued by their passengers for transferring such data on the basis of an earlier agreement.

The European Court of Justice ruled a 2004 agreement on data transfer illegal in May and set an end of September deadline for the European and American authorities to replace it with a new accord, on a different legal basis.

Brussels has urged Washington to stick to the privacy safeguards included in the 2004 deal "until such time as a new agreement is reached so as to minimise the risk of legal uncertainty and disruption to EU-US rights."

While the commission insists the new deal should only include a different legal setting - based on an inter-governmental agreement among the EU member states - the US reportedly also wanted some changes in its content.

The Finnish EU presidency told journalists that the weekend's negotiations led to "some new elements" being introduced which need a formal go-ahead by EU member states.

The bloc's justice and interior ministers are set to debate the issue at this week's meeting in Luxembourg (5 - 6 October) with the commission hoping the deal will then be hammered out with US officials on Friday.

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The European Union and the United States are still negotiating a deal on air passenger data transfers in an attempt to avoid a "legal chaos" despite a "temporary break down" on Saturday night, EU officials said.

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