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EC to consider draft US passenger name record data transfer deal after missed deadline

European officials are likely to discuss on 6 October an initialed draft agreement sent by US homeland security secretary Michael Chertoff covering passenger name record (PNR) data transfer after failing to reach a new deal by a 30 September deadline.

Ongoing talks aimed at reaching a replacement accord failed to finalise a new deal covering the transfer of European airline PNR data on transatlantic flights to the US authorities ahead of the annulment of the existing agreement. A European court had in May ruled the current deal should be annulled on technical grounds and set a 30 September date for its annulment.

Despite failing to secure a replacement agreement by the deadline, both sides point to progress and efforts are continuing to reach a swift conclusion to the negotiations to avert any prolonged legal uncertainty.

In a statement, the European Commission (EC) says much progress has been made and that both EC justice, freedom and security commissioner Franco Frattini and Chertoff have agreed negotiations will continue in a “constructive atmosphere” with a view to concluding a deal as soon as possible.

Chertoff says that following negotiations, he has initialed a draft formal US/European Union (EU) agreement regarding the sharing of PNR data, which has been sent to his European counterparts.

“Importantly, the proposal ensures the appropriate security information will be exchanged and counter-terrorism information collected by the department will be shared, as necessary with other federal counter-terrorism agencies,” he says.

The EC says this draft agreement may be discussed at meeting of European justice and home affairs ministers in Luxembourg on 6 October, in the hope of having an agreement the same day.

The PNR agreement provides the legal framework for the transfer of EU airline PNR data to the US. EC officials have been confident throughout of striking a new accord, as in the interests of time they were primarily seeking a similar deal set in a new legal basis, rather than dealing with the more thorny issue of content.

Prior to the agreement airlines in some EU member states were faced with risking breeching national privacy laws if they transferred the data or being blocked from serving the US if they did not comply.

But indications from both sides are that transatlantic services need not be impacted in the short term while a final agreement is sought.

The EC is urging the US to continue to apply the safeguards for PNR data laid down in the initial agreement until a new deal is finalised to help minimise the risk of legal uncertainty and disruption to EU-US flights.

Chertoff adds: “As we await the final ratification of the draft agreement, we expect that aircraft will continue to fly uninterrupted and our national security will not be impeded.”

The Association of European Airlines (AEA) says: “We’ve received assurances from both sides that operations could continue as they did before the weekend [30 September-1 October] and that seems to be the case.”

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