Efforts to keep terrorists off airplanes do not require seeking large amounts of data, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said Friday, defending U.S. demands for passenger information as a potential lifesaver for citizens of other countries as well.
"We don't really collect gigantic amounts of data," Chertoff said at a news conference with German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble. "It's about 30 information fields, things like your contact phone number and e-mail address."
"I will tell you that again and again it's been vital in identifying people we need to take a closer look at, many of whom turn out to be criminals or people who are associated with terrorists."
Chertoff was in Berlin for talks with Schaeuble, the top security official in Germany, which holds the EU's rotating presidency. The European Union and the United States are working out a new agreement on sharing airline passenger information for flights headed for the United States, to replace an interim deal that runs out this summer.
U.S. and European officials have had to negotiate data-sharing agreements that reflect more restrictive European privacy laws. Germany and the United States have also established a working group on data between the two countries.
Schaeuble said he was optimistic that an agreement would be worked out that would put data sharing efforts "on a clear legal basis."
"I think we can do and am optimistic that we will," he said.
Chertoff said differences between Europeans and Americans were not as sharp as sometimes made out.
"I think we actually have a great deal in common in our views of privacy," he said. "There are some differences based on historical tradition, some things we put a little more weight on, some things the Europeans put a little more weight on."
He said American efforts were protecting European visitors to the United States, citing the disruption by British security officials of a plot to blow up trans-Atlantic flights.
"What these things do is, they protect not just American citizens but visitors too. When we, working with the British, kept people off airplanes who wanted to blow the airplanes up, we saved the lives of everyone on those airplanes."