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US, EU Reach Tentative Agreement on Shared Passenger Data

Deal Up For Approval By Foreign Ministers Of 27 EU Member States

With concerns about civil liberties being sacrificed in the name of protection from terrorism at an all-time high, a tentative political agreement was reached by the European Union and the United States about what information is shared about transatlantic travelers and how long it is kept.

The agreement was reached during a conference call between Franco Frattini, EU justice and home affairs commissioner, Michael Chertoff, US secretary for homeland security and Wolfgang Schäuble, the interior minister of Germany, current holder of the EU's rotating presidency.

EU diplomats said Wednesday the agreement is expected to "sharply reduce" the amount of information on transatlantic passengers that can be shared with the US. It is also expected to lengthen the timeframe that information can be kept, according to the International Herald Tribune.

"A political agreement in principle was reached," Friso Roscam Abbing, a Frattini spokesman said.

Foreign ministers of the 27 EU member states must now approve the deal. They are scheduled to meet Friday.

The current agreement, set after 9/11, allows the US to access and record up to 34 categories of information such as names, addresses, telephone and credit card numbers from all passengers on all flights originating from EU nations.

Schäuble reportedly said in a briefing to a European Parliament committee in Strasbourg on Wednesday that number would be decreased to about 20 categories under the new deal.

An EU diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the Tribune the time the US government may retain gathered information would change to 15 years up form the current 3.5 years.

It is still unclear which categories were dropped and which were retained.

Chertoff has argued strongly that access to such information is critical to combating terrorism. "We have to insist that we can't tie our hands in keeping dangerous people out of the United States," he said in an interview last month with The New York Times.

The European Commission has said it recognizes the need to share such information, but it wants to make sure it remains highly confidential and used for crime-fighting purposes only.

FMI: www.dhs.gov, http://europa.eu/index_en.htm

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