Europe strikes interim passenger deal with US

An interim deal has been struck between the US and the European Commission that allows airline passenger data sharing to continue. The deal only lasts until 2007 but fills a gap left by the lapse of a 2004 agreement last Sunday.

Europe has won a concession on data privacy by making the US request information rather than have automatic access to all data, according to news agency AP. The US has won a concession by putting into the deal an agreement that it can share the information it does receive more widely within US government and security bodies.

The negotiations were concluded on Friday between the US Department of Homeland Security and the Commission after nine hours of overnight video conference talks.

The previously active passenger name records (PNR) agreement expired last Sunday. The European Court of Justice ruled that the previous agreement broke European rules on a technicality after the European Parliament had opposed it on grounds of substance. The substance of the deal was never tested by the ECJ, which made no further decision once it found the technical flaw in its implementation.

The European Commission had been expected to propose the same deal for data sharing as had previously been in place but negotiations with the US have been wide ranging and the just-signed deal is a new one.

The US had been pressing for more access to data and more rights over it, but though the Commission has maintained control over Europeans' privacy rights, the deal is far from a permanent one.

"The fact that this agreement lasts only nine months implies that the USA and the EU authorities have agreed to disagree," said Dr Chris Pounder, a privacy law specialist at Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind OUT-LAW.COM. "The US wants wider uses of more personal data about passengers; the EU want to ensure that European data protection standards are maintained when these data are processed."

The European Parliament may yet oppose the new agreement, and political events in the US could also make finding common ground next year difficult.

"This political divergence needs resolution and interim events such as the mid-term elections in the USA or another terrorist atrocity could have a strong bearing on what the final text, expected next summer, actually contains," said Pounder.