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EU vows no privacy breaches with US visa accords

The European Commission (EC) pledged on Wednesday that any pact with the United States to allow visa-free transatlantic flights for all Europeans would respect privacy rights cherished in Europe.

Most old EU states are already part of the US visa waiver program, which allows their citizens to travel without visas. However, Greece and 11 of the 12 mostly ex-communist countries that joined the bloc in 2004 and 2007 are not, and the EU has set a target of concluding pacts for all 27 states by October. “We will pay particular attention to ensure any agreement is founded on the principles of reciprocity, respect of fundamental rights and individual freedoms, including data protection and the right to a private life,” EU Transport Commissioner Jacques Barrot told the European Parliament. EU interior ministers last week gave the European Commission the go-ahead for talks on granting the United States some access to information in EU police databases as part of efforts to address US security concerns and conclude the visa agreements.

EU officials say access will be limited, and only available if the United States is willing to provide similar information to the EU. However some EU lawmakers have expressed concerns and called for specific guarantees that privacy will not be breached. Barrot called for fast progress towards a deal setting out the general terms of any agreement with the United States. However, the United States has given no assurances on the EU target of clinching visa waiver programs for all EU states by October, arguing that some states still had much to do to meet standards required. (Reuters)