January 7, 2010
Contact: Michelle Mittelstadt
WASHINGTON — The attempted Christmas Day attack on a U.S. airliner has refocused interest on the data collected by governments on international travelers, and how information sharing can be used to prevent terrorism and secure travel if properly shared and analyzed. In the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the United States and European Union worked out agreements to expand the sharing of personal information about international travelers as a means to prevent acts of terrorism and fight international crime.
However, as a new Migration Policy Institute (MPI) report explores, negotiations on a binding international agreement that will govern the sharing of personal information for law enforcement purposes between the United States and the European Union, while high on the transatlantic policy agenda, face significant challenges.
Among them: Divergent institutional setups of U.S. and E.U. privacy agencies, conflicting views over how to guarantee privacy and personal data protection under different legal and institutional frameworks, and finding a common solution for the obligations of private companies to share information with governments.
The report, Transatlantic Information Sharing: At a Crossroads, describes and analyzes the legal, privacy and data protection frameworks for information-sharing agreements relating to human mobility that enable the United States and the European Union to share such information for law enforcement purposes. It also examines the various informal and formal channels through which the United States and the European Union have discussed their privacy and personal data protection concerns.
"In spite of their interest in information sharing and international cooperation in the field of law enforcement more broadly, the United States and the European Union find themselves at a crossroads," said MPI Non-Resident Fellow Susan Ginsburg, who co-authored the report and is a former senior counsel to the 9/11 Commission. "There are significant challenges ahead, but the attempted Christmas Day terrorist attack serves as a reminder of the importance of finalizing a binding agreement that cements U.S. and E.U. information sharing while respecting legal, institutional and privacy frameworks on both sides of the Atlantic."
The report offers several recommendations, among them:
- The United States and the European Union should work toward negotiating a binding international agreement by setting up a roadmap that would help both sides lay out their goals and steps for diplomatic negotiations, while allowing relevant experts not involved in formal negotiations to offer their input.
- The U.S. government should consider establishing a central privacy office, helping assure European officials that the United States has an effective privacy watchdog.
- The United States and the European Union should update their respective privacy and personal data protection laws to reflect current security needs, and clearly define how those laws apply to citizens and noncitizens alike.
- The U.S. and E.U. governments should regularly provide public evaluations of the effectiveness of information-sharing agreements and the databases that collect and process information in stopping known or suspected terrorists and criminals from obtaining visas and entering their respective countries.
"The challenge will be for negotiators on both sides of the Atlantic to reconcile their differences on privacy and personal data protection and make changes both domestically and internationally," said MPI Research Assistant Hiroyuki Tanaka, who co-authored the report.
The report is available at www.migrationpolicy.org/pubs/infosharing-Jan2010.pdf.
The Migration Policy Institute is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank in Washington, DC dedicated to analysis of the movement of people worldwide. MPI provides analysis, development and evaluation of migration and refugee policies at the local, national and international levels.