After marathon overnight talks, EU and US negotiators clinched a deal today allowing more US law enforcement agencies to have access to data about air travellers heading to the US.
'We have a new interim passenger name record (PNR) agreement and this will replace the earlier agreement from 2004 that was annulled,' announced Finnish Justice Minister Leena Luhtanen, whose country currently holds the EU presidency.
'This new agreement will provide the possibility of giving data to the US authorities while guaranteeing sufficient data protection,' she told reporters in Luxembourg, after nine hours of video conference talks between negotiators.
The US has been demanding that more of its law enforcement agencies have access to personal details about travellers headed to US airports to better combat terrorism.
The lack of an agreement has left the airlines in an uncomfortable legal limbo, with some airlines now asking passengers for permission to forward the information.
The data - including credit card, passport and telephone details - is currently sent to the US customs authorities, but the Department of Homeland Security wants it to be shared with other anti-terror agencies, including the FBI.
Under the old agreement, aircraft leaving the EU for US airports had to provide more than 30 pieces of data about passengers at least 15 minutes before departure, or face being diverted and the possibility of heavy fines.
The new deal will see the same data being made available to US customs authorities, who will then be able to pass it on under certain conditions and if privacy requirements are respected.
'We are not talking about more data or more exchanges, we are talking about making easier transmitting data to agencies,' EU Justice Commissioner Franco Frattini said. He said the agreement would avoid having a series of potentially disastrous bilateral accords between the Union's 25 members and the US.
'It would have been a great risk for Europe, for security and for the privacy of European citizens,' he said. 'We couldn't have kept the proper level of privacy protection.'
The agreement is only temporary and is set to expire in July 2007. In the meanwhile, negotiators will continue to draw up a more comprehensive and permanent deal.