Brussels ‘flagrantly breached’ EU privacy law
The European Commission has “connived” at illegal handovers of air passenger data to US security agencies, argues a report backed by MEPs.
The European Parliament has voted by a large majority – 439 in favour, 39 against with 28 abstentions – for findings condemning Brussels enforcement of European data protection law.
Commissioners, ‘guardians’ of the EU treaty, along with some governments, have “flagrantly breached” both national and European laws, claim MEPs.
“The attitude of the commission, the member states… has been basically to connive at this violation of the law and of the principle of legality,” says the report.
The setback does not bode well for EU data protection chief Frits Bolkestein just weeks ahead of a key parliament vote on the commission’s 2003 decision to give controversial transfers the go ahead.
Backing from MEPs is required to give final legal approval to a decision finding the handovers “adequate” within EU legislation.
“When faced with a clear breach of European and national law and of the fundamental right to privacy, those institutionally responsible for ensuring observance of those laws and rights failed to do this and in essence became instrumental in violations of the law,” notes the report drafted by Italian MEP Marco Cappato.
Brussels sources insisted that the latest hostility from MEPs would not necessarily be translated into a vote against the data handovers.
“We’ll just wait and see,” said an official.
Computerised records have been pulled into American databases for use by US security agencies since March 5 2003.
The data is regarded as “vital” in the war on terror triggered by September 11 2001’s air-hijack attacks on New York and Washington.
Information – 34 fields of data – is delivered straight from European central reservation systems to US law enforcement databases.
Details include the names of all travellers, all contact details, telephone numbers, addresses, emails, payment information, bank numbers and credit card data.
MEPs are also concerned over EU moves toward biometric passports and the creation of European visa surveillance systems.