Did the U.S. 'blackmail' the EU over passenger data: No deal, no entry?

If the EU did not pass a controversial data sharing deal with the U.S. government, it may have meant non-visa holders may have been turned away from the land of the free.

In the past week, the European Parliament in Strasbourg passed a new passenger name records (PNR) agreement that would allow the U.S. government to "pull" data rather than have it selectively pushed, and ultimately have no restrictions imposed on them in how they use the data that airlines must share.

As previously noted, the agreement's rapporteur Sophie in 't Veld MEP, who was tasked with investigating the proposed deal, noted that it may have meant "the visa privileges for European travellers to the U.S. fell".

Describing the deal, she said the passing of the data sharing deal was a "severe blow to civil liberties".

But the U.S. government may have gone as far as threatened not to allow in Europeans without visa unless the deal was passed before it expired, TechDirt notes.

It adds that the U.S. conceded on at least one point in order to get the deal to go through the plenary session. European travellers are now able to see their records stored by the U.S. government and correct them should there be any errors. This falls in line with current EU data protection laws, and the upcoming Data Protection Regulation.

But no visa means no entry to the United States --- although, it's not clear whether ESTA visa holders would have been affected or not.

Could Europe have swiped back with a similar argument? U.S. citizens do not need a visa in most of Europe's 27 member states for up to 90 days, in some cases even longer.

The U.S. government is no stranger to threatening behaviour extra-territorially.

Take Spain as one good example. Wikileaks cables showed that a ISP-level website blocking law eventually passed the country's congress after the U.S. government pressured and even threatened the country's vulnerable economy.

If Spain didn't adopt 'Sinde law' --- its SOPA-like anti-piracy laws --- it would have retaliated with trade restrictions or even embargoes to the country. If the U.S. cut off Spain, it would have sent a very strong signal to the rest of the world leaving the country on the brink of bankruptcy.

Also, EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding described at a meeting in Brussels earlier this year that amongst many, the U.S. government “fierce lobbied” in order to make changes and remove sections of the proposed data protection legislation.

The PNR agreement looked for a while to be rejected, despite the agreement close to expiry. Once in 't Veld issued her findings and recommended a rejection of the deal, the fallout of an all-out rejection could have caused serious headaches for trans-Atlantic travellers.

in 't Veld told ZDNet some months ago that it would "unlikely" reach a point where European travellers would be refused entry to the United States, noting that the courts would intervene first. MEPs rejected a proposal to refer the agreement to the European Court of Justice, the highest court in Europe.

Considering a similar agreement had already been passed between the EU and Australia, it should in theory be no more difficult passing a similar agreement between the EU and the United States.

You'd think, at least.

Image credit: CBS Interactive/CNET. Article source: TechDirt.

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