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EU row over airline passenger data transmission

By EDRi · March 12, 2003

The Commission’s secret talks with U.S. authorities on the transmission of air passenger data have caused a heavy clash between EU institutions. The Security spokesperson of the EP conservative fraction, the Austrian Hubert Pirker, announced today his fraction will take the Commission to the European Court of Justice.

Since 5 March U.S. authorities have access to most European airlines’ passenger data bases. On 10 March, the European Parliament’s influential Citizen’s Rights and Freedoms, Justice and Home Affairs Committee (LIBE) adopted a resolution containing harsh criticism of the Commission’s proceedings. It “questions the legal base and the repercussions”, of the Joint Declaration with U.S. officials and “expresses concern that it could be interpreted as an indirect invitation to the national authorities to disregard Community law”. The original French-language draft of the resolution contained even more outspoken criticism, stating that the Joint Declaration “lacks any legal basis”. Immediately after the vote, amendments were drafted in order to broaden the criticism of the Commission in the EP resolution, which will be voted in Brussels on 26 or 27 March and is likely to be adopted by a vast majority.

While some of the MEPs’ anger may be attributed to a true concern with the protection of privacy and personal data, one must be aware of the fact that partisan and inter-institutional rows do play an important role in this conflict. The rapporteur is Jorge Salvador Hernández Mollar, a Spanish Conservative, who’s Group is notoriously at war with the responsible Commissioner, Chris Patten, a Conservative “traitor” who was nominated by Blair’s New Labour government. Many MEPs will vote for anything that criticises the Commission for not respecting the Parliament.

As a first response, the Commission answered with a Press release on the outcome of another meeting with the U.S. side, held on 4 March, announcing that filtering software will be used to prevent U.S. services from accessing data no related to security issues.

Announcement of legal proceedings conservative MEP’s (in German)

The resolution as voted on 10 March 2003 by the LIBE committee

EU press release

U.S. press release

(Contribution by Andreas Dietl, consultant on EU privacy issues)