US gets access to flight data

The US can view information about those travelling on Swiss flights Keystone

Swiss airlines flying to the United States will have to hand over passenger data to the American authorities.

This content was published on March 4, 2005 - 12:57

The Swiss government approved an accord with the US on Friday, saying it was acceptable from the point of view of data protection.

The agreement covers 34 items of information, including a person’s address, telephone number, seat number, the method of ticket payment and where the ticket was purchased.

But the deal does not include sensitive data such as medical information or dietary preferences. The accord will principally affect the national carrier, Swiss.

The agreement comes into force immediately and will run for three and a half years.

"As far as data protection is concerned it’s a good solution," said Célestine Perissinotto from the Federal Civil Aviation Office.

"Swiss carriers don’t have to supply detailed information about the eating habits or health of passengers.

"Airline companies in the European Union came to the same agreement with the US about a year ago."

For the past two years the US has been demanding data on all passengers flying into the country, as part of its fight against terrorism.

Up until now, Swiss airlines were exempt while both governments negotiated the terms under which passenger information could be handed over.


The Swiss transport ministry said it had managed to extract the same concessions from the US as those accorded to EU airlines in May 2004.

Under the agreement, passenger data passed on to the US authorities can only be used in the fight against terrorism and international crime.

It can be stored for up to three and a half years, not the 50 years initially proposed by Washington.

The US will not have direct access to passenger information; Swiss airlines have been charged with handing over the information.

Under the agreement, passengers have to be informed when their personal data has been transmitted to the American authorities.

They can demand to see their personal files and to ask for corrections to be made.

The Swiss government has asked the transport ministry to negotiate a similar agreement with Canada.


In brief

Since October last year, the US has been taking photos and fingerprints of nationals from 27 countries allowed to travel in the country without visas for up to 90 days.

This is because most of the so-called "visa-waiver countries" would not meet an October deadline to have biometric passports in place.

These passports include fingerprint and iris identification features that make the documents virtually impossible to counterfeit.

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