Tuesday, 19 October 2004

Questions (50)

Joan Burton


177 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the new arrangements that have been entered into between the European Union and Ireland on the exchange of information on passengers travelling to the United States or coming from the United States; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25285/04]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

I assume the Deputy is referring to the agreement between the European Union and the United States on passenger name records. The agreement applies to all member states. There are no separate bilateral arrangements between Ireland and the United States on the issue.

The agreement between the European Union and the United States on the processing and transfer of passenger name records data by air carriers to the United States Department of Homeland Security, Bureau of Customs and Border Protection, was signed in Washington DC on 28 May 2004 and entered into effect on the same day.

The agreement was negotiated on behalf of the European Union by the Commission, with the agreement of the member states. The agreement negotiated establishes the number and type of data which can be transferred; the length of time for which data can be retained, and the purposes for which data can be used — combating terrorism and international crime. It also provides that EU data protection authorities can represent EU citizens in seeking redress. The agreement is intended to be an interim measure until the EU has an agreed policy of its own on passenger name records.

The European Parliament subsequently decided to refer the agreement to the European Court of Justice seeking its annulment. It is the prerogative of the Parliament to refer such a matter to the European Court of Justice.

The effect of the present agreement is to facilitate air travel, while avoiding any clash of EU and US legislation and providing legal certainty for passengers and airline carriers. The agreement is designed to ensure adequate protection and the right to privacy in relation to data held. The agreement establishes more clearly the situation affecting air passengers than previously. It sets out what data can be transferred, the length of time it can be held and places limits upon the purposes for which it can be used. It also provides an avenue of redress for EU citizens in case of need. None of this had existed previously. In approving the agreement, the Council of Ministers of the European Union considered that it provided a fair balance between the need for security and privacy.