Wed, May 19, 2004 - Page 7 News List

European Commission approves security accord

REUTERS , BRUSSELS

A new EU accord with the US for wide checks of air passengers in the fight against terrorism won approval on Monday from the European Commission, despite fears in some quarters it infringes privacy rights.

It has been condemned by the European Parliament, which has threatened to mount a legal challenge.

Commission spokesman Jonathan Todd told a news conference that Brussels had negotiated enough guarantees to protect people's privacy but did not believe it would be able to win more concessions from the US authorities.

"Therefore the alternative to not taking a decision would be legal uncertainty and potential chaos for passengers and for airlines," he said.

Some data viewed as too personal, such as meal orders or special requirements that could reveal someone's religion, race or health, would not be transferred or would be deleted by the US authorities, Todd added.

But credit card numbers and, possibly, mobile phone numbers, would be transferred, he said.

"The data will be used only to combat and prevent terrorism, terrorism-related crimes and serious crime, including organized crime of a trans-national nature," he said.

Airlines, fearful of fines for failing to hand over data, have already been cooperating with US authorities.

Asa Hutchinson, the US Department of Homeland Security's undersecretary for border and transportation security, applauded the accord and said it was important for security.

"We are very pleased. The commission understood that this was absolutely essential for security. And what happened in Madrid heightened that sense of urgency," Hutchinson said, referring to the March 11 train bombings in Spain.

Todd said guarantees and concessions from US authorities included the transfer of 34 categories of information, compared with a possible 60 which airlines collect. The European Parliament wanted only 19 to be shared.

The information would only be sent by the US Customs and Border Protection with other agencies on a case-by-case basis rather than in a general fashion.

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