EU parliament panel OKs US passenger data deal

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By SLOBODAN LEKIC, Associated Press

BRUSSELS (AP) — A key European committee approved a new data agreement Tuesday with the United States that tightens restrictions on sharing information about passengers flying from Europe to America.

The accord, aimed at combating terrorism and serious transnational crime, addresses European privacy concerns, setting limits on what data can be used for by U.S. authorities and adding stronger data protection guarantees, the EU said.

The European Parliament's Civil Liberties Committee voted 31-23 in favor of the accord, meaning it's likely to be endorsed by lawmakers next month, said Natalie Dasilva, the panel's spokeswoman.

It replaces an agreement from 2007 that EU lawmakers had criticized as being too lax and allowing U.S. authorities too much access to the private data of EU citizens.

Under the new arrangement, passengers will be able to obtain access to their records to correct them. Names are redacted after six months, and data can only be stored for five years, and moved to a dormant data base for up to 10 years.

Data is collected by the airlines from passengers reservation and check-in procedures, including names, addresses, phone numbers, credit card details and baggage information. It can also include more sensitive information, such as religious meal choices or requests for assistance due to a medical condition.

Sophie in 't Veld, the committee's rapporteur on the issue, said she opposes the accord because it still allowed the data to be used for unspecified purposes such as customs or public health.

But she said Washington had made it clear it would respond to a "No" vote by parliament by suspending visa-free travel by EU citizens to the U.S.

"It is highly regrettable that the fundamental rights of EU citizens have been bargained away under pressure," she said.

But Timothy Kirkhope, a lawmaker who supported the measure, said it sets out a clear set of rules under which some parts of a U.S.-bound passenger's reservation data can be transferred to U.S. authorities to track and prosecute terrorists or serious criminals.

"This agreement secures passengers' rights and safety and it cements the crucial EU-USA security partnership," he said.

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Slobodan Lekic can be reached on Twitter at http://twitter.com/slekich

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