thoughts and observations of a privacy, security and internet researcher, activist, and policy advisor

Friday, October 06, 2006

Transatlantic Surveillance Cooperation

The US and the EU have just agreed on a new deal to transfer passenger data to the US Department of Homeland Security. This was necessary after the European Court of Justice had ruled the old agreement illegal under EU law in May. Under the new agreement, airlines will have to actively send the data to US agencies, while before the latter had direct and full access to the booking systems since 2004. The US also did not get the extension of the data set they had asked for. On the other hand, the EU agreed that the data will be easier shared with other US agencies. The agreement will formally be signed next week, it seems. It will be valid until June 2007, and the EU and the US will start negotiations over a long-term agreement in November.

There is an interesting point about transatlantic politics here: EU Justice Commissioner Frattini made clear that the EU also wants access to data from the American side. This will probably become part of the new package deal. It resembles Frattini's announcement that US law enforcement agencies will also be able to access personal data stored under the EU data retention directive, the European hurry to establish biometric passports after the US requested this, or the attempt by European governments to ignore the secret transfer of European financial data to the US government.

The pattern is familiar: European governments are complying with US pressure and arguing with "grey zones" or "legal vacuums", where they should in fact enforce European privacy legislation. But in the end, European law enforcement and intelligence agencies are not too unhappy about it. Altogether, they are slowly establishing a transatlantic identification, surveillance and profiling system, and they can easily pass the buck to the other side of the ocean for each single step.

Update: This just came in, but still confirms the pattern:
UK and US immigration databases have been linked in an intelligence sharing experiment that could lead to permanent trans-Atlantic data stores of wanted and suspected people.


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