US 'licence to snoop' on British air travellers

R.A. Hettinga rah at
Sun Dec 31 18:27:43 PST 2006


The Telegraph

US 'licence to snoop' on British air travellers

By David Millward, Transport Correspondent

Last Updated: 1:35am GMT 01/01/2007

Air passengers face having credit card transactions and email messages
inspected by the American authorities

Britons flying to America could have their credit card and email accounts
inspected by the United States authorities following a deal struck by
Brussels and Washington.

By using a credit card to book a flight, passengers face having other
transactions on the card inspected by the American authorities. Providing
an email address to an airline could also lead to scrutiny of other
messages sent or received on that account.

The extent of the demands were disclosed in "undertakings" given by the US
Department of Homeland Security to the European Union and published by the
Department for Transport after a Freedom of Information request.

About four million Britons travel to America each year and the released
document shows that the US has demanded access to far more data than
previously realised.


Not only will such material be available when combating terrorism but the
Americans have asserted the right to the same information when dealing with
other serious crimes.

Shami Chakrabarti, the director of the human rights group Liberty,
expressed horror at the extent of the information made available. "It is a
complete handover of the rights of people travelling to the United States,"
she said.

As the Americans tightened security after the September 11 attacks, they
demanded that airlines provide comprehensive information about passengers
before allowing them to land.

But this triggered a dispute that came to a head last year in a Catch 22
situation. On one hand they were told they must provide the information, on
the other they were threatened with heavy fines by EU governments for
breaching European data protection legislation.

In October, Brussels agreed to sweep away the "bureaucratic hurdles"
preventing airlines handing over this material after European carriers were
threatened with exclusion from the US. The newly-released document sets out
the rules underpinning that deal.

As a result the Americans are entitled to 34 separate pieces of Passenger
Name Record (PNR) data - all of which must be provided by airlines from
their computers.

Much of it is routine but some elements will prove more contentious, such
as a passenger's email address, whether they have a previous history of not
turning up for flights and any religious dietary requirements.

While insisting that "additional information" would only be sought from
lawful channels, the US made clear that it would use PNR data as a trigger
for further inquiries.

Anyone seeking such material would normally have to apply for a court order
or subpoena, although this would depend on what information was wanted.
Doubts were raised last night about the effectiveness of the safeguards.

"There is no guarantee that a bank or internet provider would tell an
individual that material about them was being subpoenaed," an American
lawyer said.

"Then there are problems, such as where the case would take place and
whether an individual has time to hire a lawyer, even if they wanted to
challenge it."

Initially, such material could be inspected for seven days but a reduced
number of US officials could view it for three and a half years. Should any
record be inspected during this period, the file could remain open for
eight years.

Material compiled by the border authorities can be shared with domestic
agencies. It can also be on a "case by case" basis with foreign governments.

Washington promised to "encourage" US airlines to make similar information
available to EU governments - rather than compel them to do so.

"It is pretty horrendous, particularly when you couple it with our
one-sided extradition arrangements with the US," said Miss Chakrabarti.

"It is making the act of buying a ticket a gateway to a host of personal
email and financial information. While there are safeguards, it appears you
would have to go to a US court to assert your rights."

Chris Grayling, the shadow transport secretary, said: "Our government and
the EU have handed over very substantial powers to gain access to private
information belonging to British citizens."

A Department for Transport spokesman said: "Every airline is obliged to
conform with these rules if they wish to continue flying As part of the
terms of carriage, it is made clear to passengers what these requirements

The US government has given undertakings on how this data will be used and
who will see it."

R. A. Hettinga <mailto: rah at>
The Internet Bearer Underwriting Corporation <>
44 Farquhar Street, Boston, MA 02131 USA
"... however it may deserve respect for its usefulness and antiquity,
[predicting the end of the world] has not been found agreeable to
experience." -- Edward Gibbon, 'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire'

More information about the cypherpunks-legacy mailing list