Historic E.U. Court Decision Annuls U.S.-E.U. Airline Passenger Data-Sharing Agreement; Department of Homeland Security Fails to Adequately Protect Passengers

May 30, 2006 12:00 am

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ACLU Applauds Decision Striking Down US-EU Data-Sharing Pact

NEW YORK—Today’s historic decision by the European Court of Justice striking down a data-sharing agreement between the United States and the European Union is a striking rebuke for the United States, and shows the need for the U.S. to reassess its plans for airline passenger profiling, the American Civil Liberties Union said.

“The United States needs to get into the orbit of reality when it comes to airline passenger data sharing and prescreening,” said Barry Steinhardt, Director of the ACLU’s Technology and Liberty Project. “This decision shows that our Homeland Security officials cannot keep fantasizing that they can create a massive, all-encompassing global system for collecting data on travelers by running roughshod over not only basic privacy protections but also the laws of other nations.”

The court ruling came about after the United States pressured the EU to share the private data of its passengers with U.S. authorities as part of the US effort to collect identity and other information on every person who flies. That agreement was reached while DHS was attempting to establish its passenger prescreening program, then called CAPPS II, which has since been modified and renamed Secure Flight.

“Europe has done what the United States should and must eventually do: create enforceable laws to protect personal data,” said Tim Sparapani, Legislative Counsel in the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office. “This decision strikes another blow at the administration’s over-reaching passenger screening proposals. Perhaps the Transportation Security Administration will finally learn that programs like Secure Flight and Registered Traveler are fatally flawed and should be abandoned.”

The European Court’s ruling on the issue came after members of the European Parliament objected to the U.S.-E.U. data-sharing deal, which was signed by the European Commission, the executive branch of the European government.

“This court decision is a shot across the bow that tells us two things,” said Steinhardt. “First, the United States is going to continue to have problems until it recognizes that it cannot simply impose its will on our friends and allies. Second, the U.S. approach to airline security – with its heavy reliance on the tracking of identity and the collection of passenger information – is not only impractical, but in conflict with many laws around the world, and must be abandoned.”

Links to a 2004 report by the London-based Privacy International, with an addendum by the ACLU, which outlines the reasons the data-transfer pact violated European law, are online at: www.aclu.org/privacy/spying/15032prs20040202.html

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