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31st Oct 2020

US to push Europe on data deal

The US has defended its demands for up to 34 pieces of personal data from EU air passengers as essential for the fight against terror, and has indicated it wants more flexibility on how the data is used.

"We don't really collect gigantic amounts of data," US Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff said at a press conference with Germany's interior minister Wolfgang Schaeuble in Berlin before the weekend. "It's about 30 information fields, things like your contact phone number and e-mail address," he said according to news agency AFP.

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  • Passenger data transfer has long been a bone of contention between Brussels and Washington (Photo: Wikipedia)

The question of how the US can use European passengers' data has emerged as the biggest sticking point between the Europeans and the Americans, who are currently locked in tough negotiations to thrash out a longterm deal by the summer.

"I think what we're looking for is to continue the ability to analyze the data rapidly and make it available to our inspectors without having a lot of bureaucratic hurdles," said Mr Chertoff, who indicated that while Washington does not want more information it want more leeway on what to do with it.

For his part, Mr Schaeuble said "Of course the Europeans would like to simply turn this current interim agreement into a new one," referring to a temporary deal which was worked out after the previous one was ruled illegal by the EU's highest court last year.

"The American side would like to see better use of the data that we have in the current accord. I am confident that we will be able to find a solution," he added.

But the current interim deal has already received much criticism.

Civil liberties groups say Europe caved into the Americans' demands by agreeing that more US law enforcement agencies should be able to access the data of people travelling to the US from Europe.

Brussels' selling point that airport authorities would only have to hand over data – which includes names, addresses and credit card details – when securities agencies asked for it, was seen as insufficient by critics.

However both sides were keen to play down their differences on Friday (26 January). Mr Schaeuble said it was "rubbish" that the EU was more interested in privacy issues than the US while Mr Chertoff said:

"I think we actually have a great deal in common in our views of privacy," he said. "There are some differences based on historical tradition, some things we put a little more weight on, some things the Europeans put a little more weight on."

The US homeland security secretary also underlined how important Washington believes the data is.

"I will tell you that again and again it's been vital in identifying people we need to take a closer look at, many of whom turn out to be criminals or people who are associated with terrorists."

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