EU-US air passenger data exchange scrapped

A controversial deal between Brussels and Washington to hand over full passenger details on flights between EU countries and the US was thrown out by European Court judges today.









The information was demanded by the Americans as a security measure in the wake of the terrorist attacks in September 2001.

But it was opposed by many Euro-MPs as a flagrant breach of privacy laws.

Now the European Court of Justice has backed the Euro-MPs and scrapped the "Passenger Name Records" (PNR) system which is already in operation.

The judges said the agreement with the US had to be annulled because existing EU data protection law only covers commercial data, not that used for security purposes.

The judges said the system should continue until the end of September "for reasons of legal certainty and in order to protect the persons concerned",

But then it had to be annulled because existing EU data protection law only covers commercial data, not that used for security purposes.

Liberal Democrat leader in the European Parliament Graham Watson, who led the campaign against the legislation, welcomed the result:

"The response to 9/11 has been costly, both to the taxpayer and to individual freedom. It has made us little, if any, safer.

"Today's judgment vindicates the four-year campaign that I and my colleagues led in the European Parliament to protect the privacy of airline passengers."

Fellow Liberal Democrat MEP Sarah Ludford said: "The Commission and Council (EU governments) are hoist with their own petard.

"The European Parliament has been arguing for years for adequate safeguards when data is transferred in the police and intelligence field.

"Our victory in this case demonstrates the refusal of MEPs to buckle in the face of transatlantic bullying, and to challenge 'security' proposals which undermine the legitimate interests of the citizens we are elected to represent."

She said MEPs would now be alert for any Washington attempts to replace the EU-wide data processing deal with a series of bilateral deals with national authorities "with similarly inadequate safeguards against misuse of personal data."

Today's ruling made clear that the transfer of private data on individuals for security reasons was not covered by EU rules on "data processing" as part of the supply of commercial services - such as information on individuals necessarily held by airlines when people bought travel tickets.

EU data protection rules excluded from their scope "processing operations concerning public security, defence, State security and the activities of the State in areas of criminal law."

And the "data processing" in question in the EU-US deal was clearly on security grounds, as set out by the US Bureau of Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

The deal on "processing and transfer of personal data" on transatlantic flights was backed by EU governments and the European Commission.

It meant complying with US anti-terrorist legislation requiring that all airlines operating flights to, from or across American territory provide the US authorities with electronic access to all passenger data in their reservation and departure control systems.

Concern about a conflict with EU privacy laws led to protracted negotiations, ending in May 2004 when the Commission said it was satisfied with restrictions imposed on the use of the information by the CBP.

Euro-MPs then challenged it, arguing that fundamental rights were being infringed and that there was no legal basis in EU law or supplying such detailed information.

The judges emphasised today that EU law on data protection included a full commitment to supporting the US in the fight against terrorism "within the limits imposed by Community law".

Washington had warned that failure to agree a deal on passenger data would mean prolonged delays for air passenger from Europe, as more processing would be required on arrival in America.

And the court decision almost certainly means more queues and long hold-ups for Europeans at American airports once the current system is scrapped at the end of September.



The fact that the verdict was based on a legal argument about the scope of EU data protection laws paves the way for a possible attempt to negotiate a similar, but "intergovernmental" EU deal with the US.

That would mean any passenger data transfer agreement would not be subject to the current restrictions of the EU rules identified by the judges today.

And the verdict could pose a big headache for individual European airlines. They could face the threat of sanctions from Washington if they refuse to cooperate with the US electronic passenger information requirements - and sanctions from their national data protection authorities if they do.

The European Parliament's assault on the legislation was far from unanimous - in a vote in March 2004, MEPs threatened by 229-202 to take the issue to the European Court.

The UK Government was ordered to pay its own costs today because the UK opted to support as a named individual country the defence mounted against the Euro-MPs' case by the European Commission and by the 25 EU governments acting as the Council of Ministers.



Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Opilio Recruitment: Field Marketing Manage

£25k - 40k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Breakdown Engineers

£28000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Breakdown Engineer...

Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Breakdown Engineers

£28000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Breakdown Engineer...

Opilio Recruitment: Product Development Manager

£40k - 45k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We are currently recruit...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas