EU Says Air Passenger Data Sharing Deal with U.S. Unlikely before Week's End

Oct. 2, 2006
It remained uncertain what the legal situation would be for flights until a new agreement comes into force.

The European Union said Monday it might take until next weekend to get a new agreement on sharing air passenger data with U.S. anti-terror authorities, leaving European airlines and passengers in legal limbo.

The EU's executive Commission reported much progress during weekend talks in Washington but acknowledged the sides failed to beat a court-imposed Sept. 30 deadline to clinch a new deal.

The EU Commission said that a draft agreement sent Saturday by U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff would be assessed by EU justice ministers during a two-day council meeting starting Thursday.

"It is the hope of having an agreement with the United States as possible after this council," said EU spokesman Friso Roscam Abbing.

The EU's top court in May ruled that a deal put in place as part of anti-terrorist measures was illegal, saying it was not using the right legal basis under EU law. It did not rule on the deal's content, which has been criticized in Europe as overly invasive of privacy. The court set Sept. 30 as a deadline to negotiate a new deal.

It remained uncertain what the legal situation would be for flights until a new agreement comes into force.

"In the meantime, the Commission has urged the United States to continue to apply safeguards that were laid down in the now lapsed 2004 agreement until such time that a new agreement is reached with a view to minimizing the risk of legal uncertainty and disruption to EU-U.S. flights," Roscam Abbing said.

Chertoff has said trans-Atlantic traffic would not be disrupted. The EU warned airlines were being put at risk of huge fines or the loss of landing rights if they do not hand over data to U.S. authorities, but could face legal action from national protection authorities in the 25 EU member states if they do.

Reaching a new deal is an EU priority to ensure airlines can continue to legally submit 34 pieces of data about passengers flying from Europe to U.S. destinations. Such data - including passengers' names, addresses and credit card details - must be transferred to U.S. authorities within 15 minutes of a flight's departure for the United States.

Washington has warned that airlines failing to share passenger information face fines of up to US$6,000 (euro4,700) per passenger and the loss of landing rights.

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