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Last Updated: Wednesday, 17 December, 2003, 01:46 GMT
US gets access to airline details
Passenger jets
Passenger details will be sent to the US soon after take-off
The EU and the US have agreed a deal on sharing data on all airline passengers crossing the Atlantic as part of the fight against terrorism.

It means that most personal details given at check-in will be sent to the US as soon as passengers leave Europe.

The deal ends months of talks and comes despite protests over loss of privacy from the European parliament.

In a compromise move, the US is allowed to keep the data for 3.5 years but restrictions govern who can see it.

The details will include a wide range of information, such as addresses, date of birth, credit card numbers, how many people are travelling together and how many bags they are carrying.

In fact, most of the data passengers give when they buy a ticket or check in at an airport will be sent ahead of them so US customs can assess whether they may be a terrorist or a criminal, says the BBC's Jon Leyne in Washington.

'Pain on both sides'

"It has taken protracted discussions at both official and political level," said EU Internal Market Commissioner Frits Bolkenstein, who negotiated the deal.

"In the end the United States has made a number of important concessions," Mr Bolkenstein added, as he presented the agreement to a European Parliament committee on Tuesday.

The EU cannot refuse its ally in the fight against terrorism... but a balance had to be found
Frits Bolkenstein, EU commissioner

Stewart Verdery from the US Department of Homeland Security said: "There was pain on both sides, but we have come up with a very solid middle ground."

A US law - passed after the 11 September attacks - already obliges domestic airlines to pass on such data.

Under strong pressure from Washington, some airlines are already providing the information despite the risk of being sued by passengers for breach of EU laws.

The US has agreed to use the data only in fighting terrorism and related crimes but not for ordinary crimes as Washington had initially requested.

In addition, there will be no "bulk sharing with other agencies" such as FBI, Mr Bolkestein said.

After 3.5 years Brussels and Washington would jointly review the system.

The BBC's Jon Leyne
"The compromise was reached despite protests over privacy from the European parliament"

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