‘Passenger details: don't give the US more than necessary'

16 June 2009

‘Passenger details: don't give the US more than necessary'

Airlines must not hand over more details about their passengers than absolutely necessary, and air passengers must be fully and clearly informed at to what data are being passed on. These were the demands stated by SP Member of Parliament Arda Gerkens during a debate with Justice Minister Hirsch Ballin.

Arda GerkensIn the framework of the fight against terrorism and criminality, the US wants to know exactly who is entering the country by plane. American authorities are demanding that personal details of passengers are handed over before their departure. Arda Gerkens is extremely critical of the agreement between the EU and US by which these matters are governed. "I am not against passing on passenger details, which can sometimes be useful in combating criminality," she says. But these agreements represent a step backwards, with more data required than were before. Data will now be stored for fifteen years, and data protection in the US is not well regulated."

In addition, sensitive information can be derived from these data, such as political and religious views, and even matters to do with the passenger's sexuality. "They don't ask for such details directly," says Gerkens, "but information of this sort can be deduced from reservations. Examples might be if one were going to a conference on gay rights where the organisers have negotiated a reduction in fares, or ordering a halal meal on board, or asking for permission to carry drugs to counter aids. It's absurd that data of this sort must be handed over to the US."

Despite these criticisms, which have also been voiced by campaigning groups concerned with personal privacy, Gerkens believes that Parliament has been left with no options. "The problem is that it is the US itself which determines who gets into the country and what personal details they want in advance. The EU was in a weak negotiating position because the US could simply threaten to refuse to allow to land aircraft from companies which did not pass on the data they specified. That's tantamount to blackmail."

Parliament can do nothing more about the agreement itself. Even voting against it would not improve the situation. A new agreement would then have to be negotiated and in the meantime the US could refuse to accept direct flights from the Netherlands. Gerkens' response has been to put two important demands to the Justice Minister, as she explains. "In my opinion the minister should ensure that airlines do not hand over more data than absolutely necessary to comply with the agreement. Sensitive data are not enumerated in the treaty containing this agreement, but handing over all of a passenger's details is easier, including information which may be sensitive. For me this is going much too far."

Gerkens also wants to see passengers properly informed about what is being passed on. "Airlines must make a point of telling passengers which data are being handed over and to what purpose, what will happen to this information, and that they have the right to see and correct the data and if necessary to register a complaint. As a passenger you would then at least know what is going to happen to the data."

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