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Europe wants to limit passenger data sharing with US

Europe laid out Tuesday strict conditions for the exchange of airline passenger data with the United States, Canada and Australia, insisting it should be restricted to terror and criminal probes.

The European Union’s executive arm adopted proposals on swapping passenger name record (PNR) data with third countries in an effort to ease concerns about privacy rights.

“PNR data has proven to be an important tool in the fight against serious transnational crime and terrorism,” said EU home affairs commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem.

“But at the same time, it raises important issues about protection of personal data,” she said.

The European Commission proposals follow the resumption in August of a banking data sharing scheme with the United States that had been suspended for months over privacy concerns raised by the European parliament.

A provisional EU-US agreement on passenger data is in operation, but the European parliament has postponed a vote on them as lawmakers have demanded modifications.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the United States believed that the current guidelines already met the concerns of all sides.

“We obviously want to ensure safe and secure air travel to the United States, but we also want to respect passengers’ right to privacy,” Toner told reporters.

“We think that the current agreement that’s under discussion right now satisfies both those rquirements, so we would just ask them for passage of that agreement,” Toner said.

A deal on passenger data is crucial for European airlines since the transfer of such information is a condition for flying to the United States, a country still marked by the 2001 plane suicide attacks in New York and Washington.

The European Union also has a provisional agreement in operation with Australia that is awaiting a vote. A deal with Canada must be renegotiated because certain legal commitments have expired.

The European Commission said any new agreements on sharing PNR data should be used “exclusively to fight terrorism and serious transnational crime”.

Passengers should be given “clear information” about the exchange of their data, the right to see it and the right to “effective administrative and judicial redress”, the commission said.

(c) 2010 AFP

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