Leading article: Europe safeguards our privacy

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The Independent Online

Eurosceptics are fond of complaining about the interference of "Brussels" in our private lives. We trust they will therefore be eager to welcome the fact that an EU institution has acted to safeguard our privacy. The European Court of Justice struck down an agreement by the European Union yesterday to transfer extensive information on European airline passengers to the US authorities. For this ruling, we also owe a particular debt of gratitude to the European Parliament, which has led the opposition to this pernicious deal and which referred the agreement to the Luxembourg court in the first place.

The pressure from Washington throughout this affair has been intense. European airlines have been threatened with $6,000 fines for every passenger and a loss of landing rights if they fail to comply with this data transfer requirement. The US has also warned of delays for air passengers from Europe on arrival in America if the information is not forthcoming. Such bullying is disappointing coming from a respected trading partner. And the European Parliament deserves credit for standing up to it. The American justification for demanding such extensive information has never been convincing. We are told it is an anti-terrorism measure. But this information could easily be used for much else besides thwarting terrorism. The US eventually agreed to delete any information it received after three and a half years. But it originally wanted to keep the details for half a century. The European Parliament was quite right to resist this wholly unjustified invasion of privacy.

We must now be alert to any attempt by the US to replace the EU-wide deal with a series of bilateral deals on data transfer with national authorities. Although praise is due to the European Parliament for the role it has played, we should note that the European Commission and the Council of Ministers - who rubber-stamped the original deal - have hardly covered themselves with glory. Depressingly, our own government took on a prominent role in attempting to preserve the agreement.

We should also note that, in the end, the deal was struck down only on a legal technicality, after a judicial analysis of the scope of EU data protection law. The court did not take issue with the specific measures of the agreement itself. And, worryingly, any bilateral deals would not even be subject to EU rules.

European governments are bound to come under renewed pressure from the US to find some other way of complying with its demands before the deal becomes defunct in September. They will also be keen to avoid disruption to their own citizens travelling to America. The battle against this disproportionate intrusion into the privacy of travellers is by no means over.

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