EU Caves In to US Demands to Cede Airline Passenger Data

17 December 2003

Orwell's Big Brother is alive and well and living just off Pennsylvania Avenue.

Year-long negotiations between the US Department of Homeland Security and the European Union have ended with the EU agreeing to the DHS' demand that European airlines "share" data on all US-bound travellers.

The data include such commercially exploitable information as name, email address, telephone number and credit card details. This, claims the DHS, will be used for investigations into terrorist activity and crimes such as drug trafficking and money-laundering.

The data "sharing" is not reciprocal -- at least, not for the time being. But the European Commission is said to be considering a passenger-screening system similar to that used by the US and the two sides have agreed to re-examine the issue in June 2006.

Meantime, in a token effort to address privacy concerns, the US has conceded the right of European citizens to contest or question use of their data. The US has also assured this will not be passed to other agencies unless that agency can show its relevance to a criminal or intelligence investigation -- although the DHS failed to explain how this undertaking will be overseen, or guaranteed, or by whom.

Few westbound transatlantic travellers will gain much comfort from (or believe) the words of assistant secretary for border and transportation security Stewart Verdery: "It's not a data dump. It's an individualized request for particular information."

Data sourced from: The Washington Post Online; additional content by WARC staff