US wants more EU flight data

DHS seeks to expand time and amount of information Europeans provide US about fliers.

In the aftermath of the intercepted British bombings, the Department of Homeland Security is looking to expand the US' data-sharing agreement with the EU, The Washington Post reports. DHS wants to share the data longer and more freely than they are allowed under the current agreement.

The agreement, [reached after 911], obliges all foreign carriers flying from Europe to the United States to share airline passenger data with Customs and Border Protection agents. The arrangement has raised concerns among privacy advocates and politicians in Europe over sovereignty and privacy issues.

The data includes passengers' names, addresses, credit card details, travel itineraries, and hotel and rental car information. A DHS spokesman said greater access was "essential . . . to identify potential terrorists that we don't already have on our watchlist." Isn't everything DHS wants?

The European Court of Justice reviewed the original agreement and on May 30 struck it down, finding problems with the legal basis that the European Council of Ministers used in entering into the pact. The court gave Europe and the United States until Sept. 30 to renegotiate the deal. E.U. officials said that they were not inclined to alter its substance but that they would make its underpinnings conform to European law.

The current time to retain the data is 3-1/2 years. Originally, the US wanted to retain for 50 years.

"When people are developing terror plots, sometimes it takes years to unfold," Agen said. "We wouldn't want five, six, seven years later to say we had that information but had to get rid of it."

The current agreement also puts restrictions on how data can be shared with other agencies. If, for instance, the Homeland Security Department learned that a suspected terrorist used a certain cellphone to purchase plane tickets, the agency wants to be able to share that phone number with the CIA, DHS said.

The Europeans are resistant to American attempts to take control of their data.

"There is a growing concern that European data is shared by default with the American government," said Simon Davies, director of the London-based Privacy International, an advocacy group. "That has become an issue of sovereign control with Europe. They say this is yet another attempt by the United States to wrestle control of European laws away from the Europeans, that this is yet another attempt to create a global center of gravity based in Washington, D.C."

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