Europe votes on data sharing
STRASBOURG, 19 April 2012: A controversial deal to transfer EU air passenger data to US authorities goes to the European Parliament on Thursday for final approval after being held up for two years over privacy concerns.
While a key parliamentary panel finally agreed to the deal last month, some MEPs are expected to voice continuing concerns about its personal data protection standards ahead of the vote due to take place around 1000 GMT.
The agreement, intended to replace a provisional accord from 2007, sets the legal conditions for the transfer of air passengers’ personal data to the US Department of Homeland Security.
So-called Passenger Name Record (PNR) data is provided by travellers and collected by air carriers during reservation and check-in procedures.
It includes the name, address, phone number, credit card details, travel agency data, baggage information and seat number as well as “sensitive” data — often tied to a religious meal choice or requests for assistance due to a medical condition.
If endorsed, the deal would allow the use of PNR data to prevent, investigate and prosecute terrorism, as well as transnational crimes.
But some MEPs are concerned about the duration and conditions of the storage of data.
The agreement says the data will be stored in an active data base for up to five years, though after a first six months the information is “depersonalised” — the passenger’s name is masked out.
Then it remains in a “dormant” database for an extra 15 years, requiring stricter access for US officials.
Some MEPs believe this is too long.
Washington and the European Commission were forced to negotiate a new PNR agreement after the European Parliament refused to vote for the old deal in May 2010.
The EU sealed a PNR deal with Australia last year that will allow Australian authorities to store the passenger data for five and half years, and another deal is being negotiated with Canada.
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