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Last Updated: Saturday, 7 October 2006, 00:07 GMT 01:07 UK
US hails EU flight data deal
Check-in queue at Brussels airport
The EU has sought assurances over who can access passenger data
A new agreement between the US and the EU on sharing airline passenger data has been welcomed by US Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.

Mr Chertoff said the agreement would help combat terrorism but also respect fundamental rights such as privacy.

The interim agreement will replace a deal struck down by the European Court of Justice in May, which allowed the US its own access to passenger data.

The US has sought information about air travellers since the 9/11 attacks.

The new deal will allow US law enforcement agencies access to 34 pieces of information on each passenger arriving from the European Union - including details on credit cards, passports, telephone numbers and even meal preferences.

Data protection

Unlike the previous scheme, the US agencies will no longer be able to pull data from the airlines' computer systems, but will have to wait for the airlines to forward the information to the homeland security department.

The department will not, as it had wanted to, be able to share the information with other US agencies as a matter of course, but only if "they have comparable standards of data protection," EU Justice and Security Commissioner Franco Frattini said.

"I'm glad to have an agreement that makes Americans safer today than they were yesterday," Mr Chertoff told the Associated Press news agency.

I'm glad to have an agreement that makes Americans safer today than they were yesterday
Michael Chertoff
US Homeland Security Secretary

"If planes blow up, it's not just going to be Americans who die."

EU officials described the deal, which came on Thursday after nine hours of negotiations by video conference, as a "very important result" for the EU.

"We are not talking about more data or more exchanges," Mr Frattini said.

"We are talking about making it easier to transmit data."

'Best solution'

Civil liberties campaigners had argued that the amount of information collected is intrusive and that data protection once the details are in the US is weak.

It was the data protection issue that led to difficulties between the US and the EU.

The previous deal lapsed on 1 October when both sides failed to agree on terms for a renewal. The new accord will expire at the end of July 2007.

Negotiations over a permanent deal will begin during an EU diplomatic visit to Washington in November.

Airlines had been pushing for a new agreement ever since the 2004 version was ruled invalid by the European Court of Justice.

US law requires airlines to submit passenger information so government agencies can work to spot potential terrorists.

Carriers who fail to provide information are liable for fines of up to $6,000 (4,030) per passenger or withdrawal of landing rights.

Announcing the deal at a news conference in Luxembourg, Finland's Justice Minister Leena Luhtanen, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, said the new agreement was the best solution for all sides.

"This new agreement will provide a possibility of giving passenger data to the US authorities while guaranteeing sufficient data protection," she said.

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