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U.S. attacked on air data privacy


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BRUSSELS, Belgium (Reuters) -- The United States, which is gathering personal data of millions of air travellers in a bid to fight terrorism, does not do enough to protect privacy rights of non-U.S. citizens, EU privacy watchdogs say.

The European Commission and the United States last month clinched a provisional accord for the transfer of air passengers' data to U.S. authorities so that Washington can sift the information to fend off September 11-style air attacks.

Washington is also asking foreign airlines to allow armed guards on board and several transatlantic flights were cancelled on Saturday after U.S. warnings against al Qaeda plots.

EU watchdogs say U.S. privacy safeguards were inadequate.

"The progress made does not allow a favorable adequacy finding to be achieved," the watchdogs said in a draft statement made available to Reuters ahead of publication on Monday. The data controllers are independent and were nominated after the EU passed a landmark data privacy law in 1995 seen as the world's strictest data protection system.

Watchdogs' chairman Stefano Rodota said the EU law would be watered down if the European Commission bowed to U.S. demands, and that global privacy standards would be lowered.

He said countries such as Australia and Canada have also asked the EU to pass on air passengers' data and would get a green light as they guaranteed enough privacy protection.

"We are not against cooperating to help with the fight against terrorism. But we want to subordinate this to some minimal guarantees for privacy protection," Rodota said.

Right to rectify

One major area of concern was the lack of a legally binding redress system. U.S. citizens can go to court but the tentative EU-U.S. deal rules it out for EU citizens, Rodota said.

A data privacy ombudsman has been created in the United States but this does not meet EU standards for independence as it is attached to the Department of Homeland Securities.

The right to rectify errors should be guaranteed and an independent redress mechanism set up, the watchdogs said.

The watchdogs said the list of passengers' personal data to be passed on to the United States was to be narrowed down and its use limited to terrorism and related crimes.

The United States is asking airlines to give it access to their booking records so that it can collect up to 34 different passengers' data, including the passengers' address, phone and credit card numbers, travel companions and itinerary.

The list was trimmed down from an initial U.S. request of 39 items but watchdogs considered only 19 appropriate.



Copyright 2004 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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