EU justice commissioner Franco Frattini has said he will push for a reduction in the amount of air passengers' data provided to the US, amid efforts to update a controversial EU-US data sharing agreement which will expire by the end of July.
The reduction of 34 pieces of passenger records – which Washington considers key to its security programme - "would not harm counter-terrorism efforts", Mr Frattini told the European Parliament in a debate which saw the commissioner grilled by MEPs on Wednesday (31 January).
Mr Frattini underlined the need to strike a balance between the requirements of fighting terrorism and concerns about data protection, saying that "privacy rights are non-negotiable."
His comments were echoed by German minister of State Günther Gloser, speaking on behalf of EU member states.
In around two weeks time Germany - currently holding the EU presidency - is expected to gain a negotiation mandate from EU capitals, which are currently hammering out its final terms.
The formal talks with Washington are expected to kick off in March.
According to Mr Gloser, negotiations will be "extremely torturous", as Washington is "not as interested in data protection" as the 27-nation bloc.
Under the current hard-fought deal, Washington collects 34 pieces of data on each EU traveller, including name, address, phone number, form of payment and credit card details, with airlines being threatened with fines of $6,000 per passenger or withdrawal of landing rights if they fly to the US without providing required information.
However, a US official speaking to EUobserver referred to the current interim agreement as "not ideal" and "acceptable only for a short period of time", hinting Washington will push for rapid access to data, longer storage possibility and greater flexibility to use personal name records (PNR).
If no transatlantic compromise is reached by the end of July, data transfers will be based on bilateral agreements between the USA and EU airlines, a scenario that would result in "data protection being weak", according to commissioner Frattini.
Meanwhile, MEPs took a critical stance towards the US, with Portuguese conservative Carlos Coelho calling on Washington to "roll back some of its controversial policies and reunite with its past record of fundamental rights protection."
According to French liberal deputy Jean-Marie Cavada "the EU's sovereignty has not been respected" referring also to the case of a private Belgium-based company SWIFT, which was subpoenaed by the US authorities to pass bank transaction data to Washington in order to combat terrorist financing.