Passenger data still in legal limbo

Ashley Milne-Tyte Oct 2, 2006


KAI RYSSDAL: You buy an airplane ticket these days, you’ve pretty much given away your right to privacy. That’s because since September 11, foreign airlines inbound to the U.S. have had to hand over everything from passengers names to their credit card numbers. The European Union’s none too wild about that requirement. In fact, a European court threw out an agreement earlier this spring and the two sides had until this past weekend to work out a new deal. Which they didn’t. And which thus leaves airlines crossing the Atlantic in legal limbo. From New York, Ashley Milne-Tyte has the story.

ASHLEY MILNE-TYTE: The EU and U.S. say that a new agreement is just another few days away.

In the meantime, says David Field of Airline Business Magazine, nothing drastic is likely to occur.

DAVID FIELD:“The worst case scenario would be the U.S. refusing airplanes the right to fly and land, or the Europeans suing: suing any airline that sent the data over. Both sides have agreed not to take this kind of dramatic action certainly at least until the end of this week.”

That’s when an EU meeting in Luxembourg will discuss a draft agreement that was put together over the weekend.

The problem is the two sides’ different takes on privacy versus security.

In the US, security wins out. European fliers worry their data could be stolen or passed along to other countries, but Europe has seen the face of terror in recent years.

And Henry Farrell of George Washington University says that’s swayed some legal minds.

HENRY FARRELL:“So that the people who favor security over privacy have rather more say than they did a few years agoa€¦and my best guess would be that the Americans recognize this and are seeking some concessions because they perceive that the Europeans are a bit more willing to give.”

Still, Airline Business Magazine’s David Field says, Friday is a deadline.

FIELD: “Government agencies and authorities can turn a blind eye only so long before they act, and that certainly puts a burden of pressure on both sides.”

He says a compromise must be reached soon or lawsuits could be flying more often than airplanes.

In New York, I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte for Marketplace.

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