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Airlines Required to Give Passenger Data in EU Plan

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The European Union proposed to force airlines to give EU governments information on passengers, reviving a 2007 anti-terrorism initiative that failed because of concerns about privacy protection.

The European Commission’s draft law would require EU and foreign carriers to provide national authorities with 19 pieces of data about passengers on flights to and from the bloc. The proposal, which also aims to fight drug smuggling and people trafficking, covers the “passenger name record” including seat number, reservation date, payment method and travel itinerary.

This “is an important part of EU security policy,” European Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem told reporters today in Brussels. “Common EU rules are necessary.” The proposal needs the support of EU governments and the European Parliament in a process that could take two years.

The Europe-wide program would resemble a U.S. system established after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks almost a decade ago. Canada and Australia also require EU airlines to make data available on people who fly to and from the two countries.

The previous proposal from the commission, the 27-nation EU’s regulatory arm, stalled after some governments demanded extra privacy protection. Addressing such concerns, today’s draft law would require the information to be made anonymous after 30 days, limit the retention period to a maximum five years and prohibit the use of “sensitive” data such as ethnic origin or religious beliefs.

‘Technical Nightmare’

In 2007, after the commission made its initial proposal, the Association of European Airlines representing network carriers including Air France-KLM Group, Deutsche Lufthansa AG and British Airways Plc said the measures would create “an operational and technical nightmare” by confronting the industry with 27 different national data-collection systems rather than a single point of contact with authorities in Europe.

The new proposal maintains the idea of a decentralized system based on the national collection of data, which governments in the EU would then share with each other. The commission said the draft law would align national practices to avoid the emergence of “up to 27 considerably diverging systems.”

The draft law foresees a review two years after the measures have been in operation into whether to expand the scope to cover flights between EU nations. Because the number of passengers on intra-EU flights is three times bigger than the number of travelers on flights to and from the bloc, the commission said it’s “premature” for a wider scope now because of the higher costs that would result.

“It would be quite costly to put up a system like that,” Malmstroem said.

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