US and Europe Near Deal on Data Collection

An agreement that would allow the exchange of private data like credit card numbers, travel histories, and even internet browsing habits between America and Europe is close to being signed. Such an agreement would aid our intelligence collection efforts considerably and expand the already good cooperation we are getting from most European countries in the fight against terrorism:

The potential agreement, as outlined in an internal report obtained by The New York Times, would represent a diplomatic breakthrough for American counterterrorism officials, who have clashed with the European Union over demands for personal data. Europe generally has more stringent laws restricting how governments and businesses can collect and transfer such information.

Negotiators, who have been meeting since February 2007, have largely agreed on draft language for 12 major issues central to a "binding international agreement," the report said. The pact would make clear that it is lawful for European governments and companies to transfer personal information to the United States, and vice versa.

But the two sides are still at odds on several other matters, including whether European citizens should be able to sue the United States government over its handling of their personal data, the report said.

The report, which lays out the progress of the talks and lists the completed draft language, was jointly written by the negotiators from the United States Homeland Security, Justice and State Departments, and by their European Union counterparts. The talks grew out of two conflicts over information-sharing after the September 2001 terrorist attacks. The United States government demanded access to customer data held by airlines flying out of Europe and by a consortium, known as Swift, which tracks global bank transfers.

The Swift program - perfectly legal as it was - showed up on the pages of the New York Times with the spin that it was a deep, dark, secret program that broke into people's bank accounts to glean personal information.

The fact that the program was not a secret was not the point. It could very well be that al-Qaeda was not aware of the extent of the program and therefore given clues on how to evade detection when transferring large sums of money around the globe.

But the other aspects of the agreement would be a most welcome addition as we would then be able to keep better tabs on terrorist suspects in Europe on our own rather than having to get much of the information from Interpol or European governments.