EU To Discuss Sharing Of Passenger Data

April 27, 2012

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The European Union restarted talks on Thursday to establish an EU system for sharing airline passenger data to counter terrorist attacks and trafficking of drugs and people.

Britain has said the European Union is risking a gap in its security if data on passengers flying to and from major European hubs are not stored to help detect criminals' travel patterns.

The resumption of talks between the bloc's justice ministers comes a week after the European Union agreed to share European air carriers' passenger data with the US.

The EU data sharing system, proposed by Justice Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom in 2011, would oblige member states to designate a national authority to collect the data of passengers on international flights to and from EU airports and keep it for up to five years.

Such data would include travel dates and itineraries, ticket information, contact details, travel agents, credit card details, seat numbers and baggage information, according to the Commission's proposal.

Britain has been collecting such passenger data for more than five years, while France, Denmark, Belgium, Sweden and the Netherlands have either enacted legislation or are considering it, the Commission said. In the United States, the Department of Homeland Security is responsible for the collection and analysis of such data.

Germany and Austria say they will resist the proposed system because of the length of time planned for keeping the data.

"We are going to say a very clear 'no' to this," Austrian Justice Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner said ahead of a meeting with other EU justice ministers in Luxembourg on Thursday. "Our main priority is to uphold data protection."

Last year, many countries also resisted a request by Britain that data from flights within EU air space also be collected.

British immigration minister Damian Green said in May last year that passenger data had led to the arrest of a man convicted in the United States for involvement in the 2008 attacks on Mumbai.

The Commission wants to close cracks through which suspects could slip as they fly from European countries abroad.

"Most terrorist activities are transnational in character and involve international travel... to training camps outside the EU," the Commission said.

Talks on an EU-wide system will likely take at least a year, as it will need approval from both the 27 EU governments and the more than 700 members of the European Parliament.

If it is approved, governments would then have two years to collect data on 60 percent of flights and four years on all flights, according to the Commission draft.

The data sharing agreement with the United States was delayed by nearly five years by the European Union Parliament, because some members said it would invade privacy and lead to false arrests.