U.S. international airline passenger contact tracing plan stalls, sources say

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Trump administration’s efforts to require airlines to collect contact tracing information from U.S.-bound international passengers has stalled, five people briefed on the matter told Reuters on Friday, adding such a mandate is unlikely this year.

FILE PHOTO: Travel Safely Ambassador Carlos Hernandez hands out a face masks to an airline passenger at LAX airport, as the global outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in Los Angeles, California, U.S., August 4, 2020. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson/File Photo

Major airlines and administration officials have held talks for months over a long-standing effort by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to mandate the collection and reporting of tracing information from passengers arriving to the United States from foreign destinations.

In June, Reuters reported the White House had tasked an interagency working group with adopting an interim solution that could be in place by Sept. 1 as the issue gained urgency with the coronavirus outbreak.

After a White House meeting this week, airline and U.S. officials, who spoke to Reuters on the condition of anonymity, said no plan is likely to be adopted and in effect before the end of 2020. Some government officials have raised privacy concerns about moving forward with any contact tracing requirements.

White House spokesman Judd Deere said Friday “the White House continues to work with the airlines on the best solution to protect the health and safety of the public not only during this ongoing pandemic but for future ones as well.”

A spokeswoman for Airlines for America, a group representing American Airlines, United Airlines, Delta Air Lines and others, said Friday the group continues “to work collaboratively with the federal government to implement contact tracing. We believe contact tracing is a key measure that will instill confidence for the traveling public that airlines and the federal government are prioritizing their health and safety.”

The CDC did not respond to a request for comment.

The debate over how and what data should be collected from passengers to quickly identify and contact people exposed to the coronavirus has dragged on for months.

In February, the CDC issued an interim final rule to require airlines to collect five contact data elements from international passengers, including phone numbers, and electronically submit them to Customs and Border Protection to facilitate contact tracing.

That has not been enforced. Airlines protested, arguing they could not provide such information, especially from passengers booking tickets through third-party websites.

Airlines backed setting up a website and mobile application for passengers to send contact information directly to the CDC.

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Aurora Ellis