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EU foreign ministers approve deal on US-bound passenger data transfer

Foreign Ministers of the European Union (EU) approved Monday a new deal on providing Washington with data of passengers on US-bound flights from Europe for anti-terror purposes.

If approved by the national parliaments of the EU's 27 member states, the deal will replace the interim agreement which was signed by the EU and the United States in October 2006, and which expires on July 31 this year. “The EU welcomes the new agreement which will help to prevent and combat terrorism and serious transnational crime, whilst ensuring an adequate level of protection of passengers' personal data in line with European standards on fundamental rights and privacy,” said a joint statement issued by the foreign ministers.

Portuguese Foreign Minister Luis Amado, whose country holds the rotating six-month EU presidency, said that the European Commission will make proposals in the autumn on the mechanism for monitoring the implementation of the agreement. These proposals will be discussed by the appropriate preparatory bodies, he added. Under the interim accord, European airlines must pass on to the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) up to 34 items of passenger data, including passenger addresses, seat numbers and credit card and travel details -- within 15 minutes of departure for the United States -- before the plane could be allowed to land. Meanwhile, Washington could keep the data for a time period spanning from three-and-a-half years to 11-and-a-half years. Under the new deal, the number of items of passenger data is reduced to 19.

Under normal circumstances, the US Department of Homeland Security will receive an initial transmission of Passenger data 72 hours before a scheduled departure and afterwards will receive updates as necessary to ensure data accuracy. The DHS may require passenger data 72 hours before the scheduled departure of the flight, when there is an indication that early access is necessary to assist in responding to a specific threat to a flight, set of flights, or flight route. The DHS will filter out and not use sensitive information except in cases where life is at risk. Sensitive information means data revealing racial or ethnic origin, political opinions, religious or philosophical beliefs, trade union membership or concerning the health or sex life of the individual.

The US side can keep the passenger data seven years from the date of collection in an active database, to be followed by an inactive status for eight years during which any data could be reactivated only in exceptional circumstances and under strict conditions. Either party may terminate or suspend the agreement at any time by notification through diplomatic channels. Termination or suspension will take effect 30 days from the date of notification.
The major contents of the deal were agreed upon in late June during talks between EU Justice and Home Affairs Commissioner Franco Frattini, US Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble in Brussels. (people.com.cn)