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Passenger data on transatlantic flights: MEPs keep up their opposition

Parliament adopted a draft resolution on the transfer of personal passenger data to the United States

Parliament adopted a draft resolution on the transfer of personal passenger data to the United States. For a year now, the USA has been requiring European air carriers to hand over data such as names, credit card numbers, phone numbers and meal preferences of individuals who wish to fly to the USA.

The American authorities want to use this information, which the airlines store in passenger name records (PNR), a sort of storage system, to identify potential terrorists before they can enter the US. The resolution follows the adoption in committee of a report on the subject by Johanna L.A. BOOGERD-QUAAK (ELDR, NL).

In the course of 2003, the European Commission worked out a draft agreement with the US on the obligations for European air carriers. This draft agreement will be voted in the committee next week and in plenary during the April session.

Parliament voted a resolution concerning the so-called adequacy finding the European Commission has presented.

Following privacy directive 1995/46/EC the Commission must, in the event of transfer of personal data to third countries, assess the level of data protection afforded by a third country in the light of all the circumstances surrounding a data transfer operation or set of data transfer operations (art. 25.2). In the Commission`s adequacy finding, the Commission calls the level of protection the passenger data receive in the US `adequate`. In the resolution that Parliament adopted today, MEPs call the level of data protection `inadequate`.

In the resolution, MEPs point out that there exists no legal basis in the European Union for using PNR data for public security purposes and that, in the USA, the protection of privacy is not regarded as a fundamental right. In the USA, only US citizens are granted the right to data protection.

MEPs see the draft decision as unreliable, since it keeps open the option of amending the rules at any given time. They consider the importance of the issue to be such that they urge the Commission to reach a proper international agreement with the US that would offer genuine guarantees for passengers.

Such an agreement would need to stipulate:

  • the guarantees to be offered to passengers in order to enable them to correct their data;

  • the list of serious crimes for which an additional request for information could be made);

  • the list of authorities and agencies which would share the data and the data protection conditions to be respected;

  • the data retention period;

  • the right to appeal to an independent authority and redress mechanisms in the event of infringements of passengers` rights.

Pending a permanent legislative solution or the conclusion of an international agreement, Parliament calls upon the Member States to require immediate compliance with EU and domestic privacy laws and to require airlines and travel agencies to obtain passengers` consent for the transfer of data. Furthermore, MEPs urge the Commission to block the pull system and to apply the push system.

The Commission is also asked to withdraw the draft decision and to submit to Parliament a new adequacy-finding decision (4).

MEPs warn the Commission that they reserve the right to appeal to the Court of Justice should the Commission continue without taking account of Parliament`s demands.

Theodore Koumelis
Co-Founder & Managing Director - Travel Media Applications | Website

Theodore is the Co-Founder and Managing Editor of TravelDailyNews Media Network; his responsibilities include business development and planning for TravelDailyNews long-term opportunities.