European Parliament agrees to send airline passenger data to US

EU Parliament approves the controversial deal, but not without dispute

The European Parliament on Thursday approved a controversial data transfer agreement with the U.S. that had sharply divided legislators.

The bilateral PNR (passenger name register) agreement requires European airlines to pass on passenger information, including name, contact details, payment data, itinerary, email and phone numbers, to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Under the new agreement, PNR data will be "depersonalized" after six months and would be moved into a “dormant database" after five years. However the information would still be held for a further 15 years before being fully "anonymized".

The PNR data will be stored in the U.S.'s Automated Targeting System (ATS). ATS is used to improve the collection, use, analysis, and dissemination of information that is gathered for the primary purpose of targeting, identifying, and preventing potential terrorists and terrorist weapons from entering the U.S.

But in a long and angry debate at the European Parliament on Thursday, opponents of the agreement said that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security could still use the information for other cases if so ordered by a U.S. court.

Some E.U. politicians alleged that their colleagues had been “held to ransom” by the U.S. authorities, who threatened to suspend visa-free travel to the U.S. if the deal was rejected.

The parliamentarian charged with evaluating the deal, Sophie in't Veld, voted against the agreement and was very disappointed in the outcome. Meanwhile Green parliamentarian Jan Phillipp Albrecht said that “hypocritical” representatives had thrown away E.U. citizens' civil liberties by endorsing what he called “intrusive big brother style surveillance”.

U.S. Ambassador to the E.U. William E. Kennard and Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmström both welcomed the vote: 409 for, 226 against with 33 abstentions.

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