Chertoff Still Seeking Data on European Air Travelers

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff will try to convince European Union parliamentarians on Monday that data gathered about airline passengers arriving in the United States can be crucial to prevent terror attacks.

Chertoff is pushing a new deal with the European Union that would give American law enforcement agencies continued access to pieces of information gathered about European passengers on U.S.-bound flights. The current interim deal expires in July, and the European Parliament wants a new agreement with better data protection standards.

"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," Chertoff said at a security conference in Venice, Italy, at the weekend. He will address the EU assembly's civil liberties committee.

The EU and the United States have to agree to a new deal before July to avoid problems for both airlines and people from the EU.

The current deal allows the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency to disclose passenger data to other U.S. law enforcement agencies for use in anti-terror investigations if those agencies have data protection standards comparable to those of the EU.

A maximum of 34 pieces of data - such as passenger names, addresses, seat numbers, and credit card and travel details - are transferred to U.S. authorities within 15 minutes of a flight's departure for the United States.

Washington had warned that airlines failing to share passenger data under its anti-terror screening rules faced fines of up to $6,000 per passenger and the loss of landing rights.

A special agreement is needed because the transfer of so-called Passenger Name Records to the U.S. without certain privacy safeguards has violated EU data protection rules in the past.

"Some in the U.S. seem to be thinking that the legitimate goal to fight terrorism justifies all means, but many people in the EU appear to think the contrary," Greek EU parliamentarian Stavros Lambrinidis said at a recent hearing on passenger data in the European Parliament.

The current interim deal replaced a 2004 air passenger privacy agreement that the EU's high court voided last May for purely technical reasons.

Negotiations focus on how much and how long U.S. authorities can use the data collected, when it should be destroyed, and which authorities should have access to the data.

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