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U.S., EU Discuss Transportation, Border Security

April 26, Brussels: Hutchinson, Faull on biometrics, passport database, sky marshals

Officials from the United States and the European Union (EU) met in Brussels April 26 for the first high-level dialogue on transportation and border security issues.

Among the topics of discussion were the introduction of biometrics into passports and visas, the creation of an international database for lost and stolen passports, dealing with potential terrorist threats to airline flights, the use of sky marshals, and rail security.

The officials also discussed the agenda for the upcoming U.S.-EU summit, scheduled for Dublin in June.

Appearing afterwards at a joint press conference were U.S. Homeland Security Department Under Secretary Asa Hutchinson, European Commission Director General Jonathan Faull, and EU Coordinator for Counter-Terrorism Gijs de Vries.

Hutchinson said the discussions confirmed "a recognition that we have a common threat. And of course, that threat is terrorism. There is a common goal that we share and that is the security of our citizens consistent with privacy and civil liberty protections."

Faull noted that follow-up meetings would take place twice a year and more frequently if the United States and the EU feel there are items of particular importance to discuss.

"One of the purposes of this dialogue being that we shouldn't surprise each other, that we should be frank with each other about ideas in the early phases of their gestation so that we have time to consider the implications for all of us on what is being planned," Faull said.

Following is a transcript of the joint press conference:

(begin transcript)

U.S. Mission to the European Union
Brussels, Belgium
www.useu.be

U.S, EU Hold High-Level Dialogue on Transportation and Border Security

April 26, 2004

JONATHAN FAULL: Thank you very much, (Spokesman) Pietro (Petrucci). And good afternoon everybody. We have just had an extremely productive meeting this morning and a working lunch. Perhaps a few words to set the scene about this group which met for the first time this morning and how it came about and what we hope it will achieve. First of all it brings together at a senior level those responsible for what we call security issues, border and transportation issues, generally, in Washington and in Brussels. Undersecretary Hutchinson, from the Department of Homeland Security, in Washington, led the U.S. delegation which comprised senior officials as well from the Departments of State and Justice. And our side, the Chair was the responsibility of myself and Fernando Valenzuela, who is Deputy Director-General in the RELEX Directorate-General. The Presidency was represented by Mr. Paul Hickey, who is Assistant Secretary-General in the Irish Department of Justice and Mr. Gijs De Vries, who is, as you all know, of course, the counter-terrorism coordinator in the Council.

The idea for this policy dialogue came from discussions we had with our American friends some months ago and it was indeed they who suggested that since these issues were becoming more and more important -- for obvious reasons I don't think I need to go into -- and were beginning to assume a very prominent role in the other preparatory groups which meet to prepare for the EU-U.S. summit. The next one, of course, will be held in June. And the Americans therefore suggested that we set up a dedicated high-level group to consider these issues. That is what we have done and we were very pleased to respond positively to that suggestion, and that is why we have come together this morning, here in Brussels.

A word about the agenda; it was a fairly wide-ranging one, but one characterized by a very business-like approach on both sides. We deliberately decided to avoid the usual pleasantries and long speeches and reading of documents which everybody should have read, no doubt, has read anyway. But we got down to brass tacks very quickly. These are issues of the greatest importance for the security of citizens of the European Union and of the United States. We talked about document security issues. We talked about the introduction of biometrics into passports, into visas, into other identity documents. We talked about an initiative which is getting underway, this time an European idea to create an international database, almost certainly on Interpol, for lost and stolen passports. We talked about how to deal with issues regarding flights where there may be intelligence information suggesting that there is a terrorist threat to a particular flight or a particular series of flights, the sky marshal issue, other measures which can be taken to make air transport secure. We talked, of course, about the forthcoming EU-U.S. summit and what our leaders would be discussing at that.

A very useful framework for all of these discussions was, of course, the declaration issued by the European Council, recently, on the fight against terrorism after, but not unfortunately only, necessitated by the tragic events in Madrid in March. So we talked about these issues. We talked about other ideas which we are considering on our side, on the American side. One of the purposes of this dialogue being that we shouldn't surprise each other, that we should be frank with each other about ideas in the early phases of their gestation so that we have time to consider the implications for all of us on what is being planned and indeed that we have time to consider how best to mesh our rather complicated political and legal systems and how best to explain them to the public through you and in other ways as well.

So all of these issues were raised. We agreed that we would meet twice a year under the current system, once per presidency therefore and more frequently if necessary, if we felt that there were items of importance to discuss. Equally important, of course, is that relationships are created by this sort of dialogue, so that people on both sides of the Atlantic know each better and that leads to a much more widespread culture of cooperation and contacts using all the wonders of modern technology between those working on these difficult issues in Washington, in Brussels and, of course, in the Member States. From our point of view, from the Commission's point of view, I can say that it was an extremely welcome and constructive exchange of views. We talked about serious, specific, concrete measures being implemented, or being contemplated in Washington or in Brussels. There is no doubt that we share one hundred percent the same objectives in making our borders secure, making our transport systems secure and in striking the right balance between the security measures and the rights of the individual and the protection of data. Those are our objectives. I think they are absolutely common. We have different legal systems, different political structures, so the way we get there are not always the same. But the more we talk to each other, the more likely it is that we will find common paths to that common destination. Thank you.

ASA HUTCHINSON: Thank you. Good Afternoon. I want to express my appreciation to Director-General Faull, to Mister De Vries for his leadership and his recent appointment, to the Presidency, Paul Hickey, thank you for your participation today. This has been a very helpful policy dialogue on border and transportation security. As Jonathan indicated, we had participation, on the U.S. side, from the Department of Justice, from the Department of State and from my department, the Department of Homeland Security. And the purpose of this discussion today was to take a look at the future of our border and transportation security issues. We are both working on these issues to engage in a high-level dialogue so that we can see what areas we can build on from the cooperation in the past.

And I wanted to note that this last week, Secretary Ridge signed the Container Security agreement with the EU which formalized and gave approval to that security initiative. That is very helpful from our perspective. I think the declaration that was made by the EU, the appointment of a counter-terrorism coordinator and then continued with the leadership of Director-General Faull, really sets the stage for enhanced cooperation in the future.

We did discuss a range of issues from the biometrics and the direction we are going in the use of biometrics for identity documents. We discussed stolen passports and the sharing of information in that regard. We discussed aviation security and how we can work together to build enhanced levels of security protocols when there are particular flights that might have a security threat.

There were a couple of items of action in addition to those that Director-General Faull mentioned. We talked about rail security in light of what happened in Madrid. And we have both been engaged on rail security for some time, but we agreed that the technology that we currently have, that is so applicable to aviation security, is not necessarily the technology that is needed in rail and transit systems. And we want to share our best practices, technology developments, and there will be an exploration of the exchange of information and technology in the area of rail security.

We also intend to receive a proposal that will be generated for a pilot program for exchange of information on the "Look Out List" that both sides have worked on the past and we will continue to develop a protocol for this purpose. There was a recognition that we have a common threat. And of course, that threat is terrorism. There is a common goal that we share and that is the security of our citizens consistent with privacy and civil liberty protections. And what our discussions centered on, was the development of a common strategy, where appropriate, to address that common threat and that common goal that we have. The dialogue in and of itself is worthy of achievement. That enhances the cooperation, but there will be specific items that will come out of this that we can follow up in future meetings. With that I turn it back.

GIJS DE VRIES: Clearly, the transatlantic relationship is one of the most important relationships in the world for us as Europeans. Our economies, our prosperity, our well-being, our safety and security are absolutely linked. The level of exchanges, both in economic terms and in terms of people crossing the Atlantic as such, that is absolutely fundamental to the security of European citizens to have a strong, concrete relationship with the United States. Today's meeting is one step in the further building of such mutually-supportive relations addressing some of major security issues of our time. We have, and that has already been said, clear interest in common. We have clear objectives in common and we are focusing increasingly on joint initiatives in the areas that have just been outlined.

This high-level dialogue is a policy dialogue which will permit the institutions of the Union, the Commission, the Council working together with the United States, to better address a number of these concerns. I appreciate the leadership of Secretary Hutchinson, on the American side and I believe today, we have set a new dialogue in motion that will help us to address some of these fundamental threats to our security in the months and years to come.

QUESTION: Mr. Hutchinson, you mentioned the biometric data and passports, I would like to know if you are satisfied with the engagements the European member states took concerning biometric data in European passports? Normally, the Visa Waiver Program is expected to expire in the month of October and this was always linked toward this question. I would like to know the perspectives and your point of view on this question. Thank you.

HUTCHINSON: The administration in Washington made a formal request to the United States Congress to extend the October 26 deadline for a biometric-enhanced passport to qualify for being a Visa Waiver Country. Congress has had a hearing on this, we are optimistic that they will add affirmatively in granting that two-year extension. In the meantime, and that was part of our discussion today, it is very important that we work together with the EU to more specifically define the biometric standards so that we can have the level of technology (and) clarity in the passports that are needed to purchase the right kind of readers and that we can move in a common direction in terms of the biometrics and the development of those passports. We do consider it a matter of urgency because with the difficulty of passport frauds, stolen documents, the enhanced integrity of those documents is essential and despite the two-year delay that we have requested, we hope that we can move together in unity in terms of developing those standards and developing those biometric passports.

QUESTION: A technical and a political question. In terms of biometrics and standards, did you decide anything mandatory on mandatory finger-printing, and is this lost and stolen passports, is this a registry of travel documents, and critically, Jonathan, you said that Europe shares the need to strike the right balance between civil liberties and security measures. How do you explain the European Parliament's seeming dissent with that statement?

FAULL: Well, I will start with the last question and then (walk) back. The balance between security objectives and the protection of personal data is obviously a difficult one. We believe that in our discussions, and indeed negotiations with the United States on PNR [Passenger Name Record], that we have struck the right balance. That said, of course, we take note and respect the decision taken by the European Parliament to refer certain matters to the European Court of Justice. And the Commission, and indeed the Council in the coming weeks will be considering and determining their reaction to that. But this is, obviously, an issue of great importance. It is technically complicated and has considerable political ramifications as the European Parliament has shown. We think that we found the right solutions, we struck the right balance, now we will see how best to react to the move taken by the European Parliament.

On biometrics and fingerprints, from my side, today we were not deciding on particular technical features to be included in identity documents. We were explaining to each other what we were doing. And the European Commission has indeed made proposals which are under consideration in the Council for the inclusion of biometric identifiers, both facial recognition and finger prints in a range of identity documents, visas and passports in particular. Those matters are now under consideration in the Council of Ministers where I have to say the reaction has been a very positive one. And we expect work to continue and to be implemented rather quickly, once of course the various technical barriers have been taken because this is not something one can do overnight because the biometric data have to be stored on a chip. There has to be agreement on what sort of a chip. There has to be agreement on what sort of readers to read the information on the chip, and so on. All of that work is under way in various technical groups in the Council, and internationally, by the way, in the International Civil Aviation Organization, and within the G-8 where of course we meet our American friends regularly as well. And I can tell you that we are thinking on almost the same lines and there would be complete interoperability between the various systems once they are agreed and up and running.

HUTCHINSON: I think that was a full answer, sir. Did you need any follow-up from me?

QUESTION: A follow-up to my colleague's question. Are you going to include fingerprints or not?

FAULL: The current plans are that of the three possible biometric identifiers to be used, that is to say, a digitalized photograph of facial characteristics, fingerprints, and iris recognition, it is our view that the existence of technology, plus the policy issues concerning the possibly least-perceived intrusive nature of the way in which those identifiers are taken point in the direction of facial recognition and fingerprinting. And that is indeed the way we are going, yes.

QUESTION: Question for Under Secretary Hutchinson: In the past month or so, officials from the U.S. side here have said - and this is concerning the PNR issue - that concerning the 34 pieces of information that are part of the agreement, that you are really not using all that information, you really do not need all that information. And I was wondering, considering the fact that this is one of the key objections that the parliamentarians have against the agreement, are you willing to renegotiate this issue, trying help the Commission and the Council and make some concession or compromise - however you want to term it - in order to prevent this whole issue from going to the European Court of Justice? Thank you.

HUTCHINSON: Thank you, we believe that the agreement that was negotiated with the Commission over a period of eight months was a very good negotiation resulting in an agreement that enhances passenger safety, but also guarantees individual privacy. And so we are very pleased with that agreement. When it comes to the thirty-four fields, I would emphasize that we have no interest in sensitive data and that has been excluded. And in addition when it comes to those thirty-four fields, many of those fields are not filled in. And so, you have to have a broader capability in order to get a narrow amount of data, a specific information, and so that it is one of reasons historically for that. We believe the agreement though protects individual privacy, but very importantly gives us the capability to protect the passengers. And that is what they expect when they get on those international flights.

QUESTION: With respect to the agreement on safety in container traffic, this agreement obviously replaces the bilateral agreements that were signed before, between the United States and a number of member states. However, I would like to know if there is any progress, or how is this progress...it is simply a victory for the European Commission having managed to make this a community-wide subject? Or is there something additional that has been added due to the fact that this has happened with respect to the preceding bilateral agreements? And an important question: how is it that American customs agents will be present in European ports, but there will be no European customs agents in American ports?

HUTCHINSON: Thank you. In reference to the container security agreement that was signed, I think the significance of it is that it makes the European Union a partner in that very important security program. It secondly lays the foundation for a broader involvement by the European nations. We have certain ports that have bilaterally, historically, signed up for this. But, we hope this initiative will be able to broaden and I think the fact that we have the agreement with the European Union will lay the foundation for allowing more countries to see an interest and develop a partnership under the CSI initiative [Container Security Initiative]. In reference to the customs officials and why they are located in a European port and perhaps European customs officials not in the United States port. We recognize that any of these agreements that we negotiate should have a reciprocal capability. And so, we would certainly look at any European country that wanted to work out of a U.S. port. That is something that can be discussed through our customs officials. We are not trying to act unilaterally. We believe that this is an important program for international container security.

QUESTION: I just want to ask a couple of questions. First of all, sky marshals. I understand this was one of the subjects. I am asking Mr. Hutchinson, is the United States still insisting on having sky marshals on certain commercial flights that are deemed at risk or are you considering alternative measures and what are those measures? Then, on this registry for passport, can you maybe tell us a little bit more in terms of how would it work, when will it be set up? On visas, we will have ten new members on the first of May. Will the United States consider including these countries in the Visa Waiver Program and when would it happen? And finally, to Jonathan Faull, whether maybe in the course of this discussion you clarified with the United States what is the issue of data being passed to third countries? I am referring to the PNR issue, because the Commission has some concerns about this element in the deal. Thank you.

HUTCHINSON: I will try to get all those points. In reference to the sky marshals, as a result of the new threat information that we had in December, which put us in a new category of security we had not had to address before, we issued a security directive that gave the United States the right to ask for sky marshals when we said that the security was such that that security measure was justified and needed. Now, as a practical matter, and that was our discussion today, that we recognize and respect differing views in the European Union. And we recognize that is not a security measure that is acceptable in all European countries and therefore, we obviously would not make that demand when that program is not capable under that particular country, (because) of laws or they do not have the resources to do it. And so, there could be alternative security measures that could be put into place, but in the end we are all going to act for the safety of those passengers. And if sky marshals were necessary and not available, we are going to look for other security measures so that that flight does not have to be canceled, and we agree that canceling any flight is a matter of last resort. So we are always going to look at other measures. From our perspective, obviously, sky marshals adds a deterring factor and a safety factor that we will always consider, but we will consider other measures as well.

In terms of the passport registry, we are talking about stolen passports, and this is critical. Whenever we see this is a tool that is being used by terrorists, not just for access to a country, but also a means of making money on the black market, we want to be able to enhance the security of those passports but also have a registry in which the information can be shared, and we are still working on that. The European Union has taken a leadership role in working with Interpol. We are very receptive to that, and we are continuing to work out the details that we can participate in that as well.

The third issue on the visa waiver countries, with the ten new countries coming into the EU, the qualifications for a Visa Waiver Program is based upon our congressional mandate and has been decided on a country-by-country basis. We don't take a bloc of countries and because they now have access to EU, they automatically qualify for this Visa Waiver Program. We will go through those criteria, evaluate the security measures of the particular country. Director-General Faull pointed out in our meetings today that the EU will be going through a review of the security measures in each individual country. That will be helpful for us and our evaluation as well.

FAULL: There was a last question for me on PNR. Just on that last point, to explain perhaps more fully what Under Secretary Hutchinson was saying. We collectively, the Council, will have to decide, sometime in the next, I hope, few years, very few years, whether or not the new member states can join the Schengen system fully. That is to say whether internal borders between the ten new member states with the fifteen current members can be dismantled. That process requires an assessment of their border management system and other related systems inside the border which I hope, and we agreed this [?] at our discussions. The data that our assessment will generate should be useful, and I hope helpful, for our friends in America who, we believe, should be deciding at some stage soon on the Visa Waiver Program extensions as well.

On PNR, we did not discuss PNR in the sense of negotiating what remains to be negotiated. This was not a negotiating session. I understand that there are meetings, today in fact, between Mr. (Commissioner Frits) Bolkestein's officials and Secretary of Homeland Security (Tom) Ridge's officials on the very point that you raised. There are one or two details to be tied up, but that said, the general position as we both said here is that we have completed what we think to be thoroughly satisfactory negotiation with the United States. There remains the question of the court action and consequences of it to be determined.

(end transcript)

(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)