EU, US try to nail down agreement on sharing air-travel data

The European Union and American antiterrorism officials are close to resolving longstanding differences over sharing personal information about airline passengers.

An agreement could be reached Friday to clear up a murky situation for European airlines, which risked being in violation of EU laws if they provided passenger data to the United States, and risked being barred from US airports if they refused.

"We have an initial agreement, and we will be negotiating with them today," Friso Roscam Abbing, a spokesman for the European Commission, said on Thursday. "We hope that things go well."

The EU, citing privacy concerns, had objected to demands by the US Department of Homeland Security that airlines turn over data that might reveal a passenger's ethnicity or religion. It also balked at the US plan to keep the passenger information indefinitely.

The International Air Transport Association says about 105,000 people fly between Europe and the United States each day.

The draft agreement under discussion would require airlines to provide the US government up to 34 different types of passenger information, most of it collected when a reservation is made and the rest gathered just before takeoff.

Data that could indicate a passenger's religion – say, a request for a meal without pork, which is forbidden in Islam and Judaism – would not be transmitted. In addition, the US government would have to remove the passenger data received from European airlines from its databases after 11 years.

Answering another EU concern, the proposed new agreement would also specify that the US Customs and Border Protection agency could share the passenger information with other agencies, but only after notifying the EU on a case-by-case basis.

After 9/11, the US required all airlines using its airports to provide data about their passengers, including e-mail addresses, credit card numbers, and information about how and when they bought their tickets.

The measure was presented as an antiterror tool that could help US investigators spot suspicious activity.

The European Parliament was hostile to the US demand from the start, with some members complaining that the Americans wanted too much personal information on passengers that could be used for purposes other than antiterror investigations.

A temporary accord between the EU commission and the US was reached in 2004, but the European Court of Justice invalidated it earlier this year.

European governments have objected to other US counterterror actions, including the use of European airspace and airports for secretly transporting terror suspects.

Last month, the EU also said it would investigate allegations that the Belgium-based Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, or SWIFT, violated European privacy laws by sharing confidential banking records with American antiterror officials.

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