The International Air Traffic Association IATA is warning that travellers could be left stuck in U.S. and EU airports from this October if a legal dispute in the EU is not resolved. Since 2003, the airlines have been obliged to transfer customers’ personal data to the U.S. authorities, to meet anti-terrorism demands.
But the EU’s highest court last May ruled the Brussels-Washington deal illegal. The companies might cancel flights, to avoid sanctions for contravening one or the other side’s rules. Political analyst Antonio Missiroli: “It is clear that controls of individual data are not the panacea for the fight against terrorism, they are one measure among many that can help the overall performance in this kind of fight. On the other hand it is, of course, inevitable that there are commercial spin-offs.”
The European Court of Justice said the European Commission did not have the right to clinch the accord with Washington; Only each individual EU Member State could do that, although the content of the accord was not questioned. The court said unless things were set right by 30th September, the transfer of data must cease.
IATA says this could mean blocking more than 100,000 would-be passengers per week. But a legal specialist in privacy, Jan Dhont says there is room for optimism: “I wouldn’t say that such a convention or such an agreement would per se be a violation of national constitutions or even the European human rights convention. It is possible to limit the privacy rights. In this case this would mean only to transfer the information if you take measures that are proportionate — that are really required to fight terrorism and to fight crime. So: it is not really a black or white decision, and there is room for manoeuvre to negotiate this kind of agreement.”
The European Parliament had brought the case, arguing that the accord abused individual rights – an argument which the court did not uphold. IATA’s alarm call, however, coincides with its own prediction that the air travel sector will return to profitability next year.