WASHINGTON – U.S. and European officials signed an agreement Friday for sharing information on airline passengers, saying the new policy addresses concerns about privacy.
During a signing ceremony, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, European Union Ambassador Gunter Burghardt and Irish Ambassador Noel Fahey, representing the EU presidency, said the agreement is key to guarding against terrorism.
“A global enemy requires a global response,” Ridge said. “It is an essential security measure that allows us to link information about known terrorists and serious criminals.”
The agreement, which takes effect immediately and is to last 31/2 years, gives U.S. authorities access to information about passengers on flights flying to or from the 25 European Union countries. The information will be checked against U.S. databases to determine if any travelers are terrorist threats.
The data – called passenger name records – include credit card numbers and contact information such as phone numbers and addresses. Some sensitive items, such as meal requests that could indicate a passenger’s race or religion, will either not be transferred or will be filtered out by U.S. authorities, officials said.
U.S. officials already have had access to the information under an interim program that began in March 2003, but many in Europe said that agreement did not provide adequate privacy protection. Supporters of the deal signed Friday say it protects privacy because it limits the information that can be transferred. It also restricts use of the information to combating terrorism and serious crimes, and allows U.S. officials to keep it for only 31/2 years.
The agreement also allows the U.S. government to use the data as part of an anti-terrorism program that would use personal information to assign threat levels to all airline passengers.
The program, called the Computer-Assisted Passenger Prescreening System, or CAPPS II, has been delayed because some U.S. airlines refuse to turn over passenger data for testing. Several airlines – including Northwest, JetBlue and American – have been criticized for sharing such data with the government in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terror attacks without the knowledge of passengers.