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EC to continue sharing passenger data with US

Security before privacy

Two weeks after Europe's highest court overturned an EU (European Union) agreement to share passenger data with American authorities, the EC (European Commission) has proposed a law that does much the same as the one that was annulled.

The EC, the EU's executive body, agreed yesterday to propose a law that uses different legal grounds to have the same effect: it will allow European airlines to share personal information about their passengers flying to the US with US customs and security officials.

Normally it would be illegal under Europe-wide data protection laws for a company to share European citizens' personal data with a country with weaker data protection laws, such as the US. However, after the attacks of 11 September 2001, which involved commercial airline flights, American authorities demanded the information.

Airlines would be fined or, worse, denied landing slots by American aviation authorities if they failed to provide the information, which includes details such as name, address and credit-card information. But they would be sued in Europe for breaking data protection law if they did provide the Americans with the information.

To avoid havoc in the airline industry and a potential disruption of transatlantic flights, the EC and the 25 national governments passed a law allowing the handover of most of the information the US demanded.

However, the European Parliament objected on data protection and procedural grounds and appealed to the Court of Justice, Europe's top court. The Court supported the Parliament's appeal on procedural grounds and annulled the law but it didn't uphold the appeal concerning the substance of the law.

The new procedure excludes the European Parliament from the decision-making process. It only requires approval by the 25 member state governments to become law. Sidelining the Parliament wasn't the plan, said Johannes Laitenberger, the EC's top spokesman.

"The fact that this moves out of the co-decision procedure is not a result of any option of the EC, it’s a consequence of the Court decision," he said, adding that the EC "remains committed to cooperating with the European Parliament".

At the end of last month the Court gave the existing law until 30 September before it would cease to be legally binding. Laitenberger said that elements of the new law could be introduced immediately after the current law expires on a provisional basis if the new law isn't passed in time.

The EC has promised to consult with the European Parliament in the drafting of the new law, but the Parliament will have no formal role to play in the decision-making.


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