How US Customs bounced the European Commission into a quick decision on passenger lists

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The speed with which the USA got the European Commission to sign a "Joint Declaration", which allows US Customs direct access to airlines' reservation databases and has no data protection worth speaking of, is extraordinary.

The first time that the Council of the European Union (the 15 EU governments) heard about the US demand for personal details of passengers was at the meeting of the Working Party on Aviation on 28 January 2003 - the European Commission informed the Working Party on the US demand for access to "Passenger Name Records" (PNR). At the meeting the Commission said that this:

"put airlines in the Community in a difficult position as they raise serious concerns regarding their compatibility with Community legislation in three fields: data protection (Directive 95/46/EC), computerised reservation systems (Regulation 2299/89) and cross-border movement of persons and visa policy/impact on police cooperation" (doc no: 6051/03)

The Commission told the meeting that the USA wanted to bring in its "requirements" on 5 February 2003 but they had insisted that these should not lead the Community to amend its own legislation:

"The Commission underlined that such a data was too early to find a solution for the "legal compatibility problems".. and had therefore requested the USA to postpone the said date of entry into force" (doc no: 6051/03)

The issue was next discussed at the meeting of COREPER on 5 February (COREPER is the high level committee of permanent representatives of EU governments who are based in Brussels). The Working Party on Aviation met again on 11 February and the Commission informed the meeting that the USA had agreed to put off the start date to 28 February, that a meeting with US Customs officials was planned for 17-18 February and:

"The Commission undertook to report back to the Working Party on 20 February"

The Greek Presidency of the Working Party suggested that national delegation "could also involve their data protection experts in this meeting" (on 20 February).

When the Working Party on Aviation plus national experts on data protection met on 20 February they were faced with a fait accompli - the Commission had not just met with US Customs officials to set out "a number of options for solutions which could be explored" (11 February meeting) but had signed a "Joint Declaration" with them.

Documentation and analyses

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

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

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

4. 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).

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

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

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