* European lawmakers agree to share passenger data with U.S.
* Approval comes after years of resisting U.S. demands
* U.S. officials to access airline IT systems in exceptional
(Adds details, background)
By Claire Davenport
BRUSSELS, April 19 European lawmakers agreed on
Thursday to provide U.S. authorities with data on passengers
flying from Europe to the United States, backing down after
years of resisting a move the United States says is critical to
its national security.
Members of the European Parliament have battled for more
than five years to scale back agreements that allow the United
States to access and store air passenger data, calling it an
invasion of privacy that can lead to false arrests.
But the chamber voted in favour of a revised agreement by
409 votes to 226, backing a position already adopted by the EU's
27 member states.
As part of the agreement, the United States agreed to mask
out passengers' names and contact details after six months. The
data will then be kept for up to five years, after which point
it will move to a "dormant" database for 10 years more.
In a testy and sometimes heated debate, parliamentarians
from the Liberal grouping argued that the agreement undermined
passengers' right to privacy and risked curtailing civil
liberties for Europe's 500 million citizens.
Those in favour, largely from the conservative majority in
parliament, maintained that the agreement ensured adequate
personal protection while improving security.
The European commissioner for home affairs, Cecilia
Malmstrom, said the deal provided a stronger right to citizens'
privacy as well as more legal certainty for airlines.
"At the same time, it fully meets the security needs of the
United States of America and the EU. Under the new agreement,
data of passengers travelling to the United States of America
will be used to fight serious transnational crime and
terrorism," she said.
Prior to departure airlines must make the data available to
U.S. authorities, including the names, addresses, credit card
details and seat numbers of the travellers.
The U.S. ambassador to the European Union, William Kennard,
welcomed the vote, saying passenger data "has aided nearly every
high profile U.S. terrorist investigation in recent years",
including bombings in New York and a 2008 attack in Mumbai.
"The agreement will also help to facilitate legitimate trade
and support the transatlantic travel and tourism industry, which
accounts for $72.2 billion in trade each year," Kennard said.
Lawmakers who had opposed the agreement cited evidence that
U.S. authorities gained access to passengers' data directly in
airlines' IT systems, and said Washington had not met a previous
agreement to stop such "pulling" of passenger data by January
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has written several
times to the European Commission since 2007, saying it would
stop pulling data once airlines made necessary upgrades to their
But the European Commission, the EU executive, said U.S.
authorities had agreed only to use this method in exceptional
circumstances "to prevent an urgent and a serious threat".
An industry source who did not wish to be identified said
that last month U.S. authorities accessed data from one large
European airline 7,000 times, requesting additional information
on about 5 percent of its passengers who flew to the United
(Reporting by Claire Davenport; Editing by Rex Merrifield and