- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 30, 2006

The United States and the European Union failed to reach a new deal on sharing air passenger data by yesterday’s deadline, though officials disagreed about the impact on trans-Atlantic air travel.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said the failure to agree wouldn’t disrupt trans-Atlantic air travel.

Mr. Chertoff said in a telephone interview that he was sending EU representatives “an initial proposed agreement, which I think embodies what their fundamental requirements for data protection are so we can do what we need to protect our borders.

“If they’re prepared to accept and sign, great. If we have to have additional talks, fine.”

European Commission spokesman Jonathan Todd said there would be a “legal vacuum” as of midnight.

“We have to discuss on commission level what to do next,” Mr. Todd said. He said the EU executive would debate the issue Thursday.

Mr. Chertoff said he’d been assured that European airlines would continue to transmit passenger data and said he didn’t think European governments would penalize them for doing so.

“The talks did not break down,” Mr. Chertoff said. “Their delegation had to go home and that’s fine.”

Data including passengers’ names, addresses and credit card details must be transferred to U.S. authorities within 15 minutes of a flight’s departure for the United States.

The EU’s top court in May ruled that the deal put in place after the September 11 attacks on the United States was illegal because it was not using the right legal basis under EU law. It did not rule on the deal’s content.

An EU court allowed the data to keep flowing until Sept. 30 to give officials time to negotiate a new deal.

Washington has warned that airlines failing to share passenger information face fines of up to $6,000 per passenger and the loss of landing rights.

Without the deal, airlines that hand over passenger data to U.S. authorities could face legal action from national data protection authorities in EU states, the commission said.

Mr. Chertoff, though, said he had been assured that airlines would continue to transmit the data. “There’s no intention for them to interfere with the continued transmission,” he said.

He also said he didn’t expect airlines to be fined.

“I don’t envision that while we’re in these discussions any country in Europe is going to take some precipitous step to put the airlines in a difficult position,” he said.

Mr. Chertoff said there is no legal vacuum because U.S. law is clear that airlines have to provide information about people entering this country.

“This should not be a big issue,” he said. “I can tell you from dealing with the negotiators who were over here that everybody’s negotiating in good faith.”

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