Chertoff: Passenger Data Key to Preventing Terrorist Attacks

June 8, 2007
Homeland Security Secretary says information about passengers arriving in the U.S. can be crucial in preventing terror attacks

VENICE, Italy - Pieces of information gathered about airline passengers arriving in the United States can be crucial when least expected to preventing terror attacks, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said Saturday as he pushed for a deal with European countries on sharing data.

European governments are trying to ensure the deal will not violate their strict privacy laws, a legacy of the continent's history with authoritarian regimes.

"I think the value of this data perhaps is not widely understood. You can't have an informed discussion on how to handle it unless you know what it is that it provides," Chertoff told The Associated Press after a meeting on terrorism with top security officials from Europe's six largest nations.

Chertoff has cited the case of an agent at O'Hare Airport in Chicago who, unsatisfied with a foreign traveler's responses, refused him entry and took his fingerprints in June 2003.

Those fingerprints, according to Chertoff, turned up later on the steering wheel of a suicide truck bomb detonated in Iraq.

The EU and the U.S. must hash out an agreement to replace one that expires in July to avoid potential problems for passengers and airlines.

Among the disagreements are how long American authorities should be able to use data about passengers on trans-Atlantic flights, when it should be destroyed and which agencies should have access. The United States also wants the authority to pull data directly from airline computers, but European countries insist airlines must transmit the information.

Chertoff met bilaterally with European counterparts on the sidelines of the Venice conference, and will press his message in meetings with EU parliamentarians in Brussels next week.

"What I hope to do in that visit is to explain, with some detail, how valuable that information is to us, using examples of cases in which we have stopped people or intercepted people coming into the country who are terrorists or drug traffickers," he said.

European countries also are concerned about U.S. plans to strengthen its visa waiver program - including requiring participating countries to join the passenger data sharing agreement.

The EU is pressing the United States to extend the visa-waiver program to all countries in the bloc. Citizens from 15 of the 27 EU nations can enter the United States and stay up to 90 days without applying for a travel visa.

Americans, meanwhile, can travel to every EU country without visas.



Homeland security secretary strives for information-sharing deal with Europeans

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