- The Washington Times - Friday, October 6, 2006

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff yesterday announced a deal with the European Union that allows U.S. law-enforcement agencies to obtain passenger information well in advance of flights to the United States in order to prevent potential terrorist attacks.

The Passenger Name Records (PNR), which will be made available to U.S. officials 72 hours prior to takeoff of U.S.-bound flights, contain information such as credit card numbers, address and phone records, e-mail addresses, reservation dates and frequent-flier data.

Previously, Homeland Security officials were only able to access such records minutes before a plane left Europe for the United States. While the new deal allows U.S. officials to see the information three days prior to takeoff, they now must request access rather than having automatic access to it.

The deal comes nearly a week after the Oct. 1 deadline for the United States and the EU to renegotiate how passengers are screened for entry into the United States. The new agreement, reached after a nine-hour videoconference with EU officials, will remain in effect until July.

Last year, the EU scuttled an agreement reached in 2004, citing privacy concerns.

Mr. Chertoff said the deal “will allow the department to receive PNR data earlier, thus increasing our ability to identify potential terrorists.”

However, Graham Watson, leader of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats in the European Parliament, called the agreement the “least-worst option” and said the Bush administration “is determined to extract ever more personal data and share it with the wider intelligence community.”

Mr. Chertoff said the agreement contains changes he asked for after the arrest in August of several terrorism suspects in Britain.

A Homeland Security official said the agreement soon will allow the department to obtain information beyond the 72-hour mark of a plane’s departure if there is an indication that early access could assist in responding to a specific threat to U.S.-bound flights.

“I envision a scenario where if it is truly justified and we need it, we’ll get it,” the official said. “There is a clear consensus that if a plane goes down, it’s going to have Europeans on board as well as Americans.”

As part of the deal, agencies within DHS as well as the Justice Department, the FBI and other agencies with counterterrorism responsibilities will have access to the information. It is not clear whether the CIA will have access to the data.

“This is an important agreement that will ensure normal operations for the 105,000 passengers who fly between these two jurisdictions each day,” said Giovanni Bisignani, director-general of the International Air Transport Association.

The agreement will be submitted for approval by the EU Council as soon as next week.

“The EU welcomes the new agreement, which will help to prevent and combat terrorism and serious transnational crime, whilst ensuring an equivalent level of protection of passengers’ personal data in line with European standards on fundamental rights and privacy,” the Delegation of the European Commission to the USA.

However, Dimitris Papadimoulis, a Greek left-wing European Parliament deputy, told Reuters: “It seems that the European Union has totally caved in to U.S. blackmail.”

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