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US gives Swiss more time to hand over flight data

Passengers travelling to the US could soon be made to hand over more personal information Keystone

The United States has softened demands that Switzerland's national airline, Swiss, hand over more data on its passengers to the US authorities.

Swiss was facing a deadline of September 12 to adhere to the new regulations or risk losing landing rights in the US.

The Swiss Civil Aviation Office said on Wednesday that the US had agreed to give Swiss more time to comply with the regulations, introduced in the wake of the September 11 attacks.

Urs Haldimann from the Office said a new deadline had not yet been set, and that discussions were continuing.

Switzerland had asked the US to delay the deadline to allow time for negotiation on an issue which has outraged data protection groups.

US authorities want Swiss to furnish them with personal details of all passengers including their religion and dietary preferences. It is demanding the same information from all airlines.

The Swiss want to come up with an agreement which would give the US the information it wants while respecting Bern’s data protection laws.

Switzerland wants to negotiate alongside the European Union which is also concerned about the data protection issue. To date, only Finland has agreed to the US demands.

Airlines currently provide passenger information such as the seat number, address, telephone number and payment details.

Breaking laws

Switzerland last held talks with the US authorities in Washington on July 18. Haldimann said no date for the next round of discussions had been set.

Several Swiss government departments are involved in the talks, including the transport, justice and foreign ministries, as well as the data protection service.

The Swiss Data Protection Commission said in July that the US regulation was forcing Swiss to break Switzerland’s own data protection laws.

Hanspeter Thür, the head of the commission, said the measure reduced US commitment to data protection to the level of many developing countries.

Washington has demanded that all foreign aviation companies hand over more detailed passenger information, as part of its anti-terrorism measures.

It wanted to be able to consult reservation data on Swiss planes, a move Switzerland opposed since it contravened privacy laws.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR