Chertoff chides EU on passenger data restrictions in light of airplane plot

[JURIST] US Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff called for broader US access to European airline passenger data Tuesday in a Washington Post editorial, citing the recently-alleged plot by UK terror suspects [JURIST report] to detonate explosives aboard US airliners flying to the US from Britain. Noting that "British authorities, in partnership with the United States and our allies, were able to disrupt the recent terrorist plot against passenger aircraft precisely because of timely, actionable intelligence, properly shared and acted upon before the terrorists could carry out their plans", he expressed concern that "despite the strong links we've forged with our European partners to protect our nations, we still remain handcuffed in our ability to use all available resources to identify threats and stop terrorists."

Chertoff singled out for criticism European privacy concerns that "have limited the ability of counterterrorism officials to gain broad access to data of this sort," complaining that

under an agreement with the European Union, U.S. Customs and Border Protection receives this information regularly, but it cannot routinely share it with investigators in another DHS component, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or with the FBI -- never mind with our allies in London. This information might yet identify associates of those arrested in the plot in Britain, but the rules blind us in routinely searching for that connection.
"All governments," concluded Chertoff,
bear a responsibility to prevent terrorists from boarding aircraft, and information sharing is a critical way we can work together to limit terrorist mobility, screen for unknown threats and investigate terrorist cells. Smart screening -- including careful and responsive analysis of travel data -- will enhance security and privacy.
Chertoff's remarks come in the wake of a controversial May ruling by the European Court of Justice striking down as illegal [JURIST report] an earlier agreement between the European Union and the US that compelled European airlines to disclose information about passengers flying from Europe to the US. In June, European Union diplomats said they would draft a new agreement [JURIST report] that compels European airlines to disclose information about passengers flying from Europe to the US, projecting that it would be finished by October 1. Earlier this month the US Department of Homeland Security began requiring passenger data to be sent to US authorities [JURIST report] before flights leave Britain, notwithstanding obstacles posed by European privacy laws.

Chertoff's praise of UK information-sharing also comes as US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has promised a closer examination of US anti-terror policies in light of British practices [JURIST report]. Immediately after the disclosure of the latest airplanes plot, Chertoff himself suggested that anti-terror laws need to be constantly reviewed [JURIST report] in order to ensure that "they're helping us, not hindering us," and that "maximum flexibility" in monitoring suspects' communications and other transactions is necessary in order to disrupt future terror attacks.

 

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