- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 16, 2003

An unpopular U.S. proposal to collect personal information on airline passengers to screen for terrorists is proving to be even more troublesome in Europe, where revealing the data violates privacy laws.

European airlines are being asked to provide detailed “passenger name records,” but are concerned about how that information will be used and whether it will be fed into the new Computer Assisted Passenger Pre-Screening System (CAPPS II).

The Homeland Security Department is designing the color-coded system to categorize passengers based on their perceived security risk. Green would signal little or no risk, yellow would indicate additional screening is needed, and red would prohibit a person from flying.

Privacy advocates have criticized the plan as an intrusion on civil liberties.

Airlines that turn over such information would be violating legislation enacted by the European Union and would face fines. However, if the airlines fail to provide the data, they face fines in the United States and stand to lose landing rights.

EU Commissioner Frits Bolkestein met with Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge in Washington this week, but they did not reach agreement on how to proceed.

“It was a very positive meeting. We moved forward on a number of areas, but there was no final resolution,” said Dennis Murphy, a Homeland Security spokesman.

A source with the European Union who asked not to be identified said, “The European Commission is under considerable pressure to satisfy the privacy concerns of the European Parliament, set out in a resolution of September 12, or risk being taken to court for not adequately protecting the privacy of European citizens,” the source said.

“We understand the U.S.’s sovereign right to determine the conditions on which people enter the country, we understand the American reaction after September 11, but we need to find a solution to the privacy concerns raised because it puts us in a situation that is at odds with our own privacy directive,” the EU source said.

Mr. Bolkestein last month told members of the European Parliament Committee on Citizens Freedoms and Rights, Justice and Home Affairs that they face a “truly international problem.”

European officials are concerned that nearly 40 pieces of data would be kept on record for seven years. Mr. Murphy said the information needs to be retained for “investigative purposes.”

European officials don’t want the data shared with other U.S. agencies and are concerned the information will not be limited to the fight against terrorism.

“The Europeans are not standing for it; they are not amused,” said Bill Scannell, a leading critic of CAPPS II.

The International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners in Sydney, Australia, last month passed a resolution saying that antiterrorism measures threaten “fundamental rights and freedoms, in particular the right to privacy.”

“The concern is the scope of the system that seeks to collect information about tens of millions of passengers and the secrecy surrounding it,” said David Sobel, general counsel for the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

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