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EU, US pen new passenger data deal to ease privacy fears

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(BRUSSELS) - The European Commission and the United States have penned a new deal allowing US authorities to keep airline passengers' personal data for 15 years, after a privacy outcry from EU lawmakers.

The European Union's executive arm and the United States have been negotiating a new agreement for two years to find a compromise aimed at satisfying European parliament concerns over privacy rights.

The new deal, announced by the commission on Thursday, would still allow the United States to sift through the data for 15 years for terrorism-related investigations. After that period the information must be deleted.

But to soothe concerns in the European parliament, it reduces the amount of time that information can be looked at for serious crimes, such as drug and human trafficking, to 10 years instead of 15.

A previous draft deal, leaked in May, was heavily criticised by Euro MPs concerned about letting US investigators peer at personal information such as names, credit card numbers and addresses for 15 years.

The new proposal, to replace a 2007 deal, has yet to be signed by the commission and US officials as Brussels first wants to hear the opinion of EU states and the parliament, which has veto power.

"To our eyes the new text represents a very big improvement from the existing agreement," Michele Cercone, spokesman for EU Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem, told a news briefing.

"The new agreement will guarantee that PNR (Passenger Name Record) data will be used for restricted and well defined purposes, which are fighting transnational crime and terrorism," he said.

Under the draft deal, the personal data of a passenger sent to US authorities would become "anonymous" after six months, meaning that the person's name and contact information would be masked out but available in case of an inquiry.

The data would remain in an "active" database easily accessible to US officials for five years, and then move to a "dormant" database where stricter conditions for access would apply.

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