New US demands on European postal services

By EDRi · August 25, 2004

According to a publication in the Austrian e-zine Futurezone the USA have demanded extensive advance information from European postal services about packages before they are being shipped to the United States. The US border control system US-VISIT is already being fed with data about airline passengers before they enter the territory, but must now be extended with information about the origin and destination of all packages.

The federal German data protection authority Peter Schaar and chair of the workinggroup of European data protectioners has issued a fierce protest and told Futurezone: “I hold this proposal for highly problematic and have serious doubts about the admissibility of this data transfer.” In a later statement to the German newschannel N24 Schaar added: “These data are subject to the postal secret, and may not be handed over to the German law enforcement. (…) The US must get used to the fact that their laws only apply to their own territory, and cannot oblige German companies on German territories.”

If the plan is executed, the US will have an information lead of several days over the intended recipient of the package, and will be able to check the information against several databases to detect possible terrorists, and intercept suspect deliveries.
Data about transatlantic airline passengers already have to be transferred in advance to US Customs, at least 15 minutes before departure. A PNR-record may contain 34 different items about a passenger, including name, address and credit card details. This agreement to transfer was signed by the Commission on 28 May 2004, in spite of massive and repeated protests from the European Parliament. The MEPs have now resorted to a final means of power, and have filed a legal complaint against the decision with the European Court of Justice.

Before this decision, airlines used to fax the passenger-list to US Customs shortly before departure. It is likely, according to Futurezone, that the postal services will have to follow a similar procedure; scan all address fields and collate them in an electronic document for transfer to the US.

Schaar told Futurezone the European Data protection authorities will debate about this new demand in September. He considers it as a problem with far reaching implications, and fears that the US will demand similar data about all postal traffic, including letters.

‘USA fordern Paket-Verkehrsdaten’ (in German, 12.08.2004)

‘Das glaeserne Paeckchen’ (in German, 16.08.2004)

European Parliament asks Court of Justice to annul EU-US passenger data
deal (25.06.2004)