Europe concerned over legality of data storage deal with US

Lawyers for the European Commission have announced that a proposed deal allowing the US to store for 15 years the personal data of passengers flying between Europe and the US is illegal.

The US Department of Homeland Security wants free access to credit card details, phone numbers and the home addresses of all transatlantic passengers as part of its anti-terror measures. The Passenger Name Record (PNR) agreement that is under scrutiny is said to serve this purpose.

On May 16, the European Commission’s legal service issued a note doubting such practice, saying it is incompatible with the fundamental right of data protection.

It appears that old European heavyweights France, Germany and Italy are strongly against the proposed deal while, quite expectedly, the UK, Sweden, Ireland and Estonia support it.

The lawyers have three primary concerns. The first is that the storage period of 15 years appears to be way too disproportionate as currently Europe is discussing a proposal of the same kind for travel within Europe, and the period being debated is a mere five years.

The second concern is that the system would lack independent oversight as the American side proposed that the administration be carried out by homeland security ‘privacy officers’ who could hardly be called ‘independent’.

And the third and most sensible concern is that for those who occasionally have their personal data misused it would be difficult to appeal to a court because guaranteed redress forms are administrative only, which put them at the discretion of… the Department of Homeland Security itself!

On top of all that it is evident to the lawyers that the PNR database would be used to strengthen border security control, enabling officials to investigate minor immigration and customs offences without any link to terrorism or serious crime whatsoever.

Jan Philipp Albrecht, German MEP and member of the European Parliament's Civil Liberties Committee, supports the concerns expressed by the lawyers.

The current situation, the MEP told RT, is that “an overwhelming majority in the member states and also the European parliament are opposing the agreement in this [present] form.”

­The proposed deal is one-sided as it would give the United States benefits other countries do not enjoy, believes Gerard Batten, MEP, from the UK Independence Party.

“Everything with the US seems to be a one-way street and the same with our extradition treaty with the US and the UK. They can take our citizen very easily, but we cannot do the same things against them. They are protected by their own courts,” he said.

“In terms of this information, Americans get to keep it for 15 years. My understanding of this directive is that the member states will only get to keep it for five years,” Batten added. “I think it is bad enough having your own “Big Brother” state created in the European Union, without being subjugated to an American “Big Brother” state as well by the same method.”