EU nails preliminary agreement with US on air passenger data

The EU has reached a preliminary agreement in its long-running dispute over the handling of personal data about European citizens flying to the US.

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The EU has reached a preliminary agreement in its long-running dispute over the handling of personal data about European citizens flying to the US.

Franco Frattini, the commissioner for justice and home affairs, together with German interior minister Wolfgang Schaeuble and US secretary for homeland security Michael Chertoff, reached the agreement on Wednesday.

But details of the deal will not be made public until after a meeting of ambassadors for all 27 EU countries scheduled for Friday 29 June, a spokesperson for Frattini said.

The ambassadors will have to agree the deal – which observers say is likely to happen. A resolution to the dispute has been expected for some time.

US authorities have been trying to use the renewal of a transatlantic agreement permitting the transfer of European air passengers' data, known as passenger name records, to beef up their powers of surveillance of people entering the US.

Sharing the data breaches strict European data protection laws, but the European Commission and national governments in the 27 EU member states negotiated an exemption from the rules.

That interim agreement was deemed illegal by the European Court of Justice, which gave the EU until the end of July to come up with a new accord.

Failure to make a deal could leave European airlines facing possible legal action over data protection in the EU if they hand over the passenger data, or exposed to fines and the possible loss of US landing slots in they do not.

The commissioner’s spokesperson declined to comment on reports that the political agreement allows US authorities to hold onto the passenger data for 15 years.

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