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Swiss to send passenger data to Russia even for flyovers

Russia reportedly wants to know what meal passengers choose Keystone


This content was published on December 7, 2014 - 13:20
swissinfo.ch

Swiss International Air Lines has given Moscow personal data of its passengers who land in Russia since December 2013. From April, this will also happen even if a plane is only flying through Russian air space. 

So if someone flies with Swiss from say Zurich to Delhi, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Shanghai or Tokyo, the transport ministry in Moscow will receive his or her so-called Advance Passenger Information (API) data. 

This includes a passenger’s name, sex, passport number and where he or she is staying in the destination country. The data is stored for five years and allegedly coordinated with police and secret service databases. 

The Federal Data Protection Commissioner has reacted with concern to the news, reported the SonntagsZeitung. 

“That is a serious infringement of passengers’ personal sphere,” said spokesman Francis Meier, explaining that exchanging API data was only possible with a bilateral agreement. 

EU rejection 

Russian President Vladimir Putin first demanded in summer that European airlines hand over data for flights entering Russian air space. The problem was that handing personal data to a third state without an agreement is illegal in most countries – which is why the European Union has successfully rebuffed the Russian demands. 

But Swiss International Air Lines has given in, according to the SonntagsZeitung. 

“From this spring, the airline will systematically deliver sensitive data on its passengers directly to the transport ministry in Moscow,” the newspaper said, adding that there was no legal basis for doing so. 

This will affect hundreds of thousands of people a year; every year around 200,000 Swiss fly to Thailand alone. 

Swiss spokesman Mehdi Guenin confirmed the reports: “We are working under the assumption that the data will be delivered from April.” 

Swiss denied that Russia had threatened to close its airspace to countries that did not provide the data. 

Meal information 

What’s more, Russia is now reportedly pressing for additional data made when reserving a flight. This Passenger Name Record (PNR) data includes a passenger’s email address, telephone number, credit card details – even what type of meal (kosher, halal) they choose. 

The Federal Office of Civil Aviation has reportedly offered to hold talks with the Russian authorities about a bilateral treaty for exchanging PNR information. 

Swiss International Air Lines already delivers API and PNR data to the United States, Canada and Britain based on such a treaty.

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