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Today, European Digital Rights, a coalition of privacy and civil liberties organisations in Europe, has started a campaign against the illegal transfer of European air travellers' data to the United States. The campaign is started at a time when both the European Commission and Parliament are starting new talks with the US about the issue.

In this campaign, European Digital Rights will offer models of complaints that air travellers can send to the airline carriers and their national data protection commissioners. With these letters air travellers can request their personal data from the airlines and get information about which of their personal data were transferred to the US. Another letter is addressed to national data protection commissioners to urge them to investigate the transfer of personal data. The letters are available through the website of European Digital Rights.

"The transfer of passenger data lacks any legal basis and violates EU data protection laws. There are very few safeguards against abuse", says Maurice Wessling, president of European Digital Rights. "If European travellers are unfairly stopped and searched at airports, or even barred access to the US, they will find it impossible to find out which data have been the cause of these restrictions".

Since 5 march 2003, an agreement between the European Commission and United States Customs provides US authorities online access to European travellers' Passenger Name Record (PNR) data for flights coming from, or going to or through, the US. The PNR data consist of all relevant information related to a passenger's flight: departure and return flights, connecting flights, special services required on board the flight (meals such as Kosher or Halal) and flight payment information such as credit card numbers.

Under EU privacy regulations the transfer of such personal data to third countries has to abide by strict guidelines. However, due to political and economic pressures by the US government, the European Commission has allowed the transfer of passenger data to go through.

The agreement mentions that the data can be used "for enforcement purposes" and that it can be retained as long as it is "required for the purpose for which it was stored". The agreement also mentions that US Customs may share the data with other US agencies for "legitimate law enforcement purposes". Those terms read like an assurance that all European passengers' data could be stored in FBI and other US agencies' databases for many years to come and will be used for broad and vague law enforcement purposes. Those purposes are very different from the limited anti-terrorism objectives that, the US government claimed, originally justified their request for more EU passenger data from European airline companies.

About European Digital Rights -

European Digital Rights (EDRI) is a European association of privacy and civil rights groups. Since its foundation in June 2002, EDRI represents 10 privacy and civil rights organizations from 7 different countries in the European Union.

Members of EDRI have joined forces to defend civil rights in the information society. The need for cooperation among European organizations is increasing as more regulation for the internet, privacy and interception is originating from the European Union. Especially since 11 September, new regulations have been passed that demands unified action from civil rights defenders.

Contact details, for more information about this press release: Maurice Wessling: tel +31 20 4686451

The EDRI letters for passengers to send to airlines and their national Data Protection Commissioners are on: Letters

Documentation and analyses from Statewatch

1. Virgin and Easyjet open to legal challenge? Report

2. Spain proposes data on all airline passengers to be sent to law enforcement agencies and for extra checks on all foreign nationals entering the EU: Special Report

3. Massive majority in European Parliament against deal with US on access to passenger data: Full report, resolution and amendments and verbatim debate

4. Full-text of report for the Committee on Citizens' Freedoms and Rights, 6.3.03: Text

5. How US Customs bounced the European Commission into a quick decision

6. Full-text: Mr Rodota's letter (pdf)

7. Full-text: European Commission/US Customs talks on PNR transmission, Brussels, 17/18 February: Joint Statement (html)

8. Statewatch report 27.2.03: EU Working Party report on passenger data access by USA

9. Full text of : Article 29 Data Protection Working Party: Opinion 6/2002 on transmission of Passenger Manifest Information and other data from Airlines to the United States, adopted 24 October 2002, doc no: 11647/02/EN, WP 66 (pdf).

10. Statewatch report 26.2.03: US Customs to have direct access to EU airlines reservations databases

11. Statewatch report 13.2.03: European Commission caves in to US demands for airline passenger lists

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