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E.U. Seeks Data on American Passengers

Sophie in 't Veld, a member of Parliament from the Netherlands, said Frattini's proposal would "undermine the credibility" of the E.U., which criticized the E.U.-U.S. pact. "We still do not have sufficient evidence of how effective the use of these data are in the fight against terrorists," she said.

The European countries' units would analyze the data to identify people and their associates who may be involved in terrorism or organized crime. It would also create and update "risk indicators" for assessing them and provide intelligence on travel patterns and other trends relating to terrorist offenses and organized crime, according to the proposal. The data could be used in criminal investigations and prosecutions.

James Harrison, a Sacramento attorney and director of the Identity Project, a privacy organization, said that the prospect of analyzing the data to create risk assessments is "alarming."

"Congress forbids the U.S. from conducting algorithms on passenger data domestically," he said, referring to a ban on testing algorithms assigning risk to passengers not on government watch lists. "That is exactly what they are talking about here."

E.U. officials said that all non-Europeans would be protected under the scheme by European states' data-protection laws, while U.S. privacy laws apply only to U.S. citizens. In the case of passenger data, the United States has extended administrative Privacy Act protections to non-U.S. citizens. The Department of Homeland Security also has an online redress site open to all.

But, in 't Veld said, "Even if there were 27 excellent data protection schemes, if you are an American citizen, and travel around Europe for a month, who will you turn to? Ask yourself: How good is your Hungarian?"

Another difference between the U.S.-E.U. pact and the European proposal deals with sensitive information such as religion, sexual orientation and union membership. Under the U.S.-E.U. deal, that information can be used in exceptional cases, "where the life of a data subject or of others could be imperiled or seriously impaired."

Douglas Lavin, regional vice president North America for the International Air Transport Association, called the European proposal "a positive step" in terms of harmonizing data-sharing policies, but said he is concerned about an international patchwork dealing with passenger data. "We don't want to be faced with conflicting laws in this area," he said.

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