Europe continues to share passenger data with US

Two weeks after Europe’s highest court overturned a EuropeanUnion agreement to share passenger data with American authorities,the European Commission has proposed a new law that does much thesame as the one that was annulled.

The Commission, the Union’s executive body, agreed Monday topropose a new law that uses different legal grounds to have thesame effect: it will allow European airlines to share personalinformation about their passengers flying to the U.S. with U.S.customs and security officials.

Normally it would be illegal under Europe-wide data protectionlaws for a company to share European citizens’ personal data with acountry with weaker data protection laws such as the U.S. However,after the attacks of Sept.11, 2001, mounted using commercialairline flights, American authorities demanded the information.

Airlines would be fined or worse, denied landing slots byAmerican aviation authorities if they failed to provide theinformation, which includes details such as name, address andcredit card information. But they would be sued in Europe forbreaking data protection law if they did provide the Americans withthe information.

To avoid havoc in the airline industry and a potentialdisruption of transatlantic flights, the Commission and the 25national governments passed a law allowing the handover of most ofthe information the U.S. demanded.

However, the European Parliament objected on data protection andprocedural grounds and appealed to the Court of Justice, Europe’stop court. The Court supported the Parliament’s appeal onprocedural grounds and annulled the law but it didn’t uphold theappeal concerning the substance of the law.

The new procedure excludes the European Parliament from thedecision-making process. It only requires approval by the 25 memberstate governments to become law. Sidelining the Parliament wasn’tthe plan, said Johannes Laitenberger, the Commission’s topspokesman.

“The fact that this moves out of the co-decision procedure isnot a result of any option of the Commission, it’s a consequence ofthe Court decision,” he said, adding that the Commission “remainscommitted to cooperating with the European Parliament.”

At the end of last month the Court gave the existing law untilSeptember 30 before it would cease to be legally binding.Laitenberger said that elements of the new law could be introducedimmediately after the current law expires on a provisional basis,if the new law isn’t passed in time.

The Commission has promised to consult with the EuropeanParliament in the drafting of the new law, but the Parliament willhave no formal role to play in the decision-making.

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