Monday, 23 July 2007

European Parliament criticises flight data deal

In a strongly worded resolution, the European Parliament has attacked the transfer of passenger details on trans-Atlantic flights to the American authorities. The agreement was reached in the final days of the German Presidency of the EU, and the Parliament has now said that it contains “significant mistakes” and failings for the data protection of EU citizens. It says that many of these data have been sent too soon and saved for too long. Many MEPs expressed their anger at a meeting with the EU Justice commissar, Franco Frattini. The EU was accused of having sold the pass to the Americans. The issue dates from 9-11 when the Americans asked for access to the reservation systems of airlines bringing in passengers from abroad. The goal was to have access to information about credit cards and so on. The idea was to filter out terrorists. Chosen people were then detained on arrival and questioned.

In May 2004, the EU agreed with Washington on certain minimum standards to protect this data. But the European Parliament was strongly opposed to this agreement and it took the case to the European Court of Justice and won. In May 2006, the ECJ said that the agreement violated EU law, although it did this on procedural issues and not on the substantive questions of data protection and privacy. So the Council of Ministers continued to use the agreement as a framework for future negotiations. The Council and the Commission came to an interim agreement with the Americans which, in the eyes of MEPs was even worse than the original deal. According to the agreement, the American authorities could take the data and pass it onto other authorities like the FBI and the CIA, essentially without restriction. The Americans threatened to withdraw landing rights from airlines if they did not comply, and this put them in a strong position vis-à-vis the EU, which knew that the data protection would be even less if there was no agreement governing it. The new resolution, essentially voted by Social Democrats, Greens, Liberals and other left-wingers, said that the new agreement is based on non-binding reassurances by the Americans. Right-wing MEPs, by contrast, have congratulated the Commission on the agreement. [Stefan Tomik, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 12 July 2007]

---- An excerpt from John Laughland's Intelligence Digest. For a free e-mail subscription to the Intelligence Digest, please click here. ----

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