Thursday, 18 December 2003

More voices in European Parliament against transfer of passenger data to the USA

Despite widespread reprinting in the USA of Department of Homeland Security propaganda claiming that an "agreement" has been reached with the European Union that permits USA government access to airline reservation data collected in the EU, reports from the EU, and especially from members of the European Parliament, make clear that the proposed agreement is far from assured of approval.

The European Parliament press office headlined its summary of the EP committee meeting at which the issue was discussed Tuesday evening, 17 December 2003, MEPs divided over Commission deal on airline passenger data :

Several MEPs voiced sharp criticism, questioning above all the compatibility of the agreement with current EU law. "At the moment, we are still in an illegal situation", said rapporteur Johanna BOOGERD-QUAAK . "We have repeatedly asked for negotiations to be based on our policies, but how do you fit that policy with the result of this negotiation?" she asked. According to Kathalijne BUITENWEG (Greens/EFA, NL), the three and a half year storage period was "disproportionately long". "The Commission is well aware that it is breaking the law but I assume that Member States will defend it for the reciprocity we're being offered", she said. "We can't break an EU law simply because everyone wants to!" she added. Marco CAPPATO (IND, I) shared this view, believing the data would be collected illegally. "Laws are to be obeyed and not to be interpreted politically", he said.

Hubert PIRKER (EPP-ED, A), while acknowledging that "some progress has been made" expressed concern about the number of information fields for which data would be collected. "Do these 34 types all serve the need of combating terrorism?" he questioned. "And who would have access to this data?" he asked. In the view of Elmar BROK (EPP-ED, D), the practical differences for EU citizens entailed by this arrangement must be established, and this was aside from reflecting on its effect on transatlantic relations. Raising the principle of reciprocity, Timothy KIRKHOPE (EPP-ED, UK) questioned whether the EU would derive any benefit from the data it would be entitled to receive. "How best can we make use of this information, if we want to use it at all?" he asked.

In a further statement today, MEP and rapporteur Boogerd-Quaak (who has spoken out on this and related issues in the past) joined the call made yesterday by MEP and committee member Cappato to take the matter to the European Court of Justice:

Transfers of passenger data continue to breach EU laws

"Transfers of airline passenger data to the US remain in breach of EU law despite claims to the contrary by the US authorities and the Commission", according to Dutch Liberal MEP Johanna Boogerd (D66), Parliament's rapporteur on this issue. Mrs Boogerd asked for a ruling by the European Court of Justice on the issue at an unprecedented hearing with Commissioners Vitorino, Patten, de Palacio and Bolkestein on Tuesday.

Refuting statements this week by the US Department of Homeland Security that it has an agreement with the Commission affirming that the data transfers are legal, Mrs Boogerd said:

"I realise that Commissioner Bolkestein has fought hard to find a solution to the unlawful transfer of passenger data to the US. However, the so called 'adequacy finding' that the Commission has made is neither a binding agreement between the US and EU, nor does it stop the transfer of passenger data to the US which are in blatant breach of EU data protection laws."

"The adequacy finding means that the Commission believes that the US provides adequate protection of the passenger data, despite the fact that the transfer is without the consent of the passengers, that the transfer in itself is illegal according to EU data protection laws and that the US has no proper data protection laws nor a fully independent Data Protection Officer with an enforcement mechanism."

Commenting on what actions Parliament might take, Johanna Boogerd added:

"The Treaty of Nice gives the Parliament the right to seek the opinion of the European Court of Justice to examine the legality of a contemplated agreement. I have urged the Comission on its own accord to seek this opinion, but if not, Parliament shall certainly seek to obtain this opinion. Moreover, I am considering asking the newly appointed European Data Protection Supervisor for his opinion."

"The only permanent solution is an international agreement between the EU and the US, with full involvement of the European Parliament and the US Congress. In the interim period, the unlawful transfer of passenger data must be stopped and I deplore this failure of the Commission to immediately enforce EU data protection laws", Johanna Boogerd commented.

[Addendum, 19 December 2003: More on this story: Air data decision faces legal challenge (EUpolitix.com)]

[Addendum, 22 December 2003: And still more: EU Travel Privacy Battle Heats Up (Wired.com)]

Link | Posted by Edward on Thursday, 18 December 2003, 12:19 (12:19 PM) | TrackBack (0)
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