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Deal struck on sharing air passenger data between EU and U.S.

European Union and U.S. negotiators reached a deal on sharing transatlantic air passenger data for anti-terror investigations, diplomats in Luxembourg said Friday, concluding arduous talks that highlighted divisions over privacy rights.

European Union and U.S. negotiators reached a deal on sharing transatlantic air passenger data for anti-terror investigations, diplomats in Luxembourg said Friday, concluding arduous talks that highlighted divisions over privacy rights.

Details of the agreement — reached a week after the two sides missed an Oct. 1 deadline —were not immediately revealed. It followed a transatlantic video conference lasting at least seven hours, said EU diplomats, who spoke on condition of anonymity because EU government representatives had not yet been formally notified of the deal.

Negotiators were briefing the 25 EU ambassadors about the deal before more discussions by EU justice and interior ministers later Friday.

The ministers were expected to endorse the accord, which replaces a 2004 transatlantic air passenger privacy deal that the EU high court voided last May for technical reasons. The renegotiated deal is an interim agreement; the EU and the U.S. hope to conclude a permanent one next year.

Negotiations collapsed last week when EU negotiators— seeking a simple replacement accord — could not agree to a request by U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff for more routine sharing of passenger data among U.S. law enforcement agencies. Washington also wanted the right to access airline reservation systems.

Under the lapsed agreement, passenger data is relayed to U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials who cannot routinely share it with other Department of Homeland Security agencies or the FBI.

Reaching a new deal had been an EU priority to ensure airlines could continue to legally submit 34 pieces of data about passengers flying from Europe to the United States. Such data —including passengers' names, addresses and credit card details — must be transferred to U.S. authorities within 15 minutes of a flight's departure for the United States.

Washington had warned that airlines failing to share passenger data faced fines of up to $6,000 US per passenger and the loss of landing rights.

Going too far?

The talks reflected disagreements between the United States and the EU over how far governments should go in curbing personal freedoms to prevent terror attacks.

During the negotiations, EU officials stressed they shared Washington's concerns about terrorism, but demanded strict data protection guarantees in return for more routine sharing of passengers' personal details among U.S. government law enforcement officials.

Washington and Brussels have already faced off over the U.S. administration's use of secret CIA detention centres in Europe to interrogate terror suspects.

European governments are also annoyed over a secret deal between the U.S. Treasury and the Belgium-based money transfer company SWIFT, which has for years secretly supplied U.S. authorities with massive amounts of personal data for use in anti-terror investigations, violating EU privacy rules.

Privacy restrictions tend to be stricter in Europe than in the United States.

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