Alarm at US right to highly personal data – Religion, sex life & political views among passenger details to be passed on to officials By Jamie Doward

Dandelion Salad

By Jamie Doward, home affairs editor

07/22/07 “The Observer

Highly sensitive information about the religious beliefs, political opinions and even the sex life of Britons travelling to the United States is to be made available to US authorities when the European Commission agrees to a new system of checking passengers.

The EC is in the final stages of agreeing a new Passenger Name Record system with the US which will allow American officials to access detailed biographical information about passengers entering international airports.

The information sharing system with the US Department of Homeland Security, which updates the previous three-year-old system, is designed to tackle terrorism but civil liberty groups warn it will have serious consequences for European passengers. And it has emerged that both the European parliament and the European data protection supervisor are alarmed at the plan.

In a strongly worded document drawn up in response to the plan that will affect the 4 million-plus Britons who travel to the US every year, the EU parliament said it ‘notes with concern that sensitive data (ie personal data revealing racial or ethnic origin, political opinions, religious or philosophical beliefs, trade union membership, and data concerning the health or sex life of individuals) will be made available to the DHS and that these data may be used by the DHS in exceptional cases’.

Under the new agreement, which goes live at the end of this month, the US will be able to hold the records of European passengers for 15 years compared with the current three year limit. The EU parliament said it was concerned the data would lead to ‘a significant risk of massive profiling and data mining, which is incompatible with basic European principles and is a practice still under discussion in the US congress.’

Peter Hustinx, the European Data Protection Supervisor, has written to the EC expressing his ‘grave concern’ at the plan, which he describes as ‘without legal precedent’ and one that puts ‘European data protection rights at risk’.

Hustinx warns: ‘Data on EU citizens will be readily accessible to a broad range of US agencies and there is no limitation to what US authorities are allowed to do with the data.’

He expresses concern about ‘the absence of a robust legal mechanism that enables EU citizens to challenge misuse of their personal information’.

Hustinx concludes: ‘I have serious doubts whether the outcome of these negotiations will be fully compatible with European fundamental rights, which both the Council and the Commission have stated are non negotiable.’

The new agreement will see US authorities gain access to detailed passenger information, from credit card details to home addresses and even what sort of food may have been ordered before a flight. In addition, US authorities will be free to add other information they have obtained about a passenger, leading to concerns about how the information will be shared.

It has emerged that neither Hustinx nor the European parliament were aware of the final draft of the plan.

‘If you are going to have this kind of agreement it should involve parliament and the data protection supervisor,’ said Tony Bunyan of Statewatch, the civil liberties organisation that campaigns against excessive surveillance.

He warned that under the new system the data will be shared with numerous US agencies. ‘The data protection supervisor and the European parliament are angry that they were not consulted,’ Bunyan said. ‘But they are also angry with a number of elements of the plan such as giving the US the absolute right to pass the data on to third parties.’

Simon Davies, director of Privacy International, another group that campaigns against state surveillance, said the new agreement gave huge powers to the US authorities. ‘We have no guarantee about how this data will be used,’ Davies said.

A spokeswoman for the Information Commissioner’s Office in England and Wales said it would be discussing the matter with European counterparts shortly. ‘We are working with the European Data Protection Supervisor and our other EU data protection colleagues to come to a joint opinion on the level of data protection set out in the final agreement,’ the spokeswoman said.

© Guardian News and Media Limited 2007

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One thought on “Alarm at US right to highly personal data – Religion, sex life & political views among passenger details to be passed on to officials By Jamie Doward

  1. Namiste,

    Dear Mr. Jamie Doward,

    I agree with your artcle whole heartedly. I find it incredulas that the US Department of home land Security would target europeans to such a degree, but yet support a president which wants to allow hundreds of thousands of illegal immagrants who inter the US illegally the same rioghts as a real citizen of the united States has, for example the right to a social secuirty card and or free liberty that they are now putting a 15 year limit on how long the DHS will be keeping the peoples from Euope on file and investagated. You dobn’t see them doing such to illegal alliens here in The US do you? Infact it is this presidents plan to give them all their american citizen ship with out any cheack, with out and medical checks, with out any flling out forms of reams and reams of financial statements or any documentation at all to get a green card or a workers permit that all other immigrants have to obtain. It is his plan to get them all in as a huge block of new free voters in the republican party so that they will have a overwelming majority. It is also the Republicans plan the leaders the ones in charge the ones that know the powers that be: that the more illegal alliens that get their citizenship free and clearand become republicans that not only will they vote republican, but that this great free influx of cheap labor will unindate the labor forces here in america rendering it impossible to get a good paying job with any binifits whats so ever as this is the Republicans plan to make the majority of Americans poor like othr third world countries. Giving a certain ratial group a certain pass and free ride isn’t fair considdering the amount of money a American citizen has to spend to get a person from another country here and to get them their visa and medical reports inspection privacy, and have that person go through the whole process of the investigation, and the all important interview just to get avisa and a gren card and finally a workers permit. If they allow all of these illegal immagrants a free ride and a right of passage then all of Europe, China, Vietnam, Korea, all asian countries, the Philipines, Russia, The former Russian States, Poland, and all of the other countries that have to go through the proicess of getting a Visa and a right to be able to stay and live or to make a living in the USA.

    Namiste and Peace to you,


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