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EU data competition office criticizes states for sacrificing privacy rights

European Union governments are sacrificing their citizens' privacy in the fight against international terrorism, the bloc's top data protection official said Tuesday.

„More and more statements are being made by leaders and representatives of member states which seem to suggest that rights afforded by privacy and data protection legislation are viewed as incompatible with security and justice in the face of the threats posed by international terrorism,” said EU data protection supervisor Peter Hustinx.

Hustinx' comments came as EU interior and justice ministers were reviewing current negotiations with the United States on a controversial deal to share key passenger data. Washington requires the information as part of heightened security measures after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. A new transatlantic deal has to be clinched by the end of July. The US has warned that airlines which fail to share passenger data would face fines of up to $6,000 per air traveler and a possible loss of landing rights. Under the current interim pact, European air carriers are obliged to give US authorities up to 34 pieces of information on each passenger aboard America-bound flights. The data includes credit card numbers, travel itineraries, addresses and telephone numbers.

German interior minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said after a meeting with his EU counterparts in Luxembourg on Tuesday that he was „optimistic” to have a deal by the end of the month when Germany hands over the rotating EU presidency to Portugal. However, he acknowledged that talks with the US were „difficult”. The US has called for more data-sharing, claiming that European privacy concerns had unreasonably hampered its counter-terrorism activities in the past few years. Hustinx said that messages such as „no right to privacy until life and security are guaranteed” were suggesting that fundamental rights and freedoms „are a luxury that security cannot afford.”

The EU and the US are increasingly at odds over how to reconcile civil liberties with the US-led fight against terrorism. Washington is also working on new legislation under which foreign air passengers travelling to the US would be required to feed their data into an online database days ahead of the trip. In addition, Brussels and Washington have locked horns over a secret agreement between the US Treasury and the Belgium-based money transfer company SWIFT, which has supplied US authorities with personal data for use in counter-terrorism inquiries. (