Sunday, July 29, 2007

Travelers Face Greater Use of Personal Data By Paul Lewis and Spencer S. Hsu

The United States and the European Union have agreed to expand a security program that shares personal data about millions of U.S.-bound airline passengers a year, potentially including information about a person's race, ethnicity, religion and health.

Under the agreement, airlines flying from Europe to the United States are required to provide data related to these matters to U.S. authorities if it exists in their reservation systems. The deal allows Washington to retain and use it only 'where the life of a data subject or of others could be imperiled or seriously impaired,' such as in a counterterrorism investigation.

According to the deal, the information that can be used in such exceptional circumstances includes "racial or ethnic origin, political opinions, religious orphilosophical beliefs, trade union membership" and data about an individual's health, traveling partners and sexual orientation.

Airlines do not usually gather such data, but officials say it could wind up in passenger files as a result of requests for special services such as wheelchairs, or through routine questioning by airline personnel and travel agents about contacts, lodging, next of kin and traveling companions. Even a request for a king-size bed at a hotel could be noted in the database. ...

Although Homeland Security has said it will move passenger information to "dormant" status after seven years and "expects" to erase it after 15 years, it notified the E.U. that expiration of data will be subject to "further discussions."

Dutch lawmaker Sophia Veld, the European Parliament's standing rapporteur on Passenger Name Records, said the agreement gives a green light to U.S. authorities to use confidential information for unstated purposes. Stavros Lambrinidis of Greece, vice chairman of the parliament's civil liberties, justice and home affairs committee, warned that it allows extra data collection not just in counterterrorism cases but for "a vast and in some cases unidentified number of crimes. So we have function creep."

And make the king suite non-smoking, please. Got that down?

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