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U.S. Department of Homeland Security  
  

10 May 2004

Ridge, EU Officials Discuss Passenger Data, Aviation Security

Dept. of Homeland Security chief meets May 10 with EU's Vitorino

Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge met with European Union (EU) officials in Washington May 10 to discuss aviation security issues, including the provision of air passenger name record (PNR) data by EU countries for use in the U.S. passenger pre-screening system.

"The United States, like the European Union, wishes to keep our borders open to travelers and trade, but closed to terrorists," said Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge. "And I believe we are confident that we can find an acceptable means to share this important security information and ensure proper privacy and liberty for our citizens."

In December 2003, after a year of negotiations, the United States and the EU reached a preliminary agreement on the legal transfer of PNR data. The European Commission, the EU's governing body, issued an "adequacy finding" that affirmed that U.S. privacy protections are legal and sufficient to guard passenger privacy.

However, on April 21, 2004, the European Parliament, which viewed the transfer of data as a breach of EU privacy laws, voted to refer the draft agreement to the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg.

Antonio Vitorino, EU commissioner of justice and home affairs, joined Ridge in a joint press briefing after their meeting and noted that the European Commission will make a decision on May 12 on whether to go forward with the December agreement, and on May 17 "the Council of Ministers will take the final decision."

It is "likely" those decisions will be in favor of the adequacy finding statement and the data-sharing agreement, he said.

"That will most likely change the nature of the case, the court case, that has been raised by the Parliament. But I see no obstacles for the proceedings, according to what has been agreed, until the court takes a position in some time," Vitorino said.

He also praised the Bush administration's efforts to have Congress extend the biometric passport deadline for 27 countries - mostly EU member countries - beyond October 26, 2004. At that time, those 27 so-called visa waiver countries are required to have machine-readable passports with biometric indicators, such as digital finger scans or photographs, in order for their citizens to enter the United States without a visa as the law now allows.

"We are determined to introduce biometric features in the European citizens' passports," Vitorino said. "We are determined to conclude this process in order to guarantee that the travel documents of the European Union citizens will be more secure."

The Bush administration has asked that the biometric passport deadline be extended to November 30, 2006.

Ridge and Vitorino also answered questions about the effect of the Iraqi prisoner abuse photos on their anti-terrorism cooperation; safety at the upcoming G-8 summit in Sea Island, Georgia; and safety at the summer Olympics in Athens.

Following is a transcript of their press briefing:

(begin transcript)

U.S. Department of Homeland Security
May 10, 2004

Press Release

REMARKS BY SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY TOM RIDGE AND EUROPEAN UNION COMMISSIONER OF JUSTICE AND HOME AFFAIRS ANTONIO VITORINO

Washington, D.C.
May 10, 2004

SECRETARY RIDGE: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. First of all, on behalf of the President and the Administration, I want to welcome the Commissioner Vitorino, the European Union Commissioner for Justice and Home Affairs, Director General Faull [Jonathan Faull, director-general for Justice and Home Affairs], and the European Union's Counterterrorism Coordinator. Mr. [Gijs] de Vries, it's a great pleasure to welcome you as well. Congratulations on -- I think -- congratulations on your appointment. (Laughter.) It's good to be with you.

The Commissioner and his colleagues and I have had the opportunity to meet and discuss several issues of mutual concern. This is including aviation security but certainly not limited to that.

The United States shares an important relationship with the European Union and her member nations. In nearly every field of human endeavor, we share a partnership built on common interest, common goals and mutual respect. We both value freedom and liberty above all else and wish to secure these blessings for our citizens.

Of course, we also share the heartbreak, the devastation, and the despair of terrorist attacks at home. However, together we are resilient and we are determined. We both realize that security for our individual countries and for freedom throughout the world must rely upon collective action.

As airplanes connect family and friends across oceans, and cargo ships make ports of call around the world, we must find ways to work together to reduce our common vulnerabilities to terrorist attack.

And I'm pleased to say we have already. Just a few weeks ago, the United States and the European Union signed an agreement to further expand our Container Security Initiative, or CSI. We pledged to share tools, to share information and best practices necessary to secure our ports and oceans from attack.

And we continued that commitment in our discussions today. We had a good discussion about the need to share advance passenger information data so that we can protect our skies and keep terrorists off commercial airliners and away from our borders. We share a common interest in making this vital information available in a manner that will help us protect our citizens while, at the same time, maintaining the privacy of that information of these travelers.

We are all welcoming societies. And as I mentioned, we have a commitment to maintaining the type of cultural and economic exchanges that are so valuable to our respective countries.

The United States, like the European Union, wishes to keep our borders open to travelers and trade, but closed to terrorists. And I believe we are confident that we can find an acceptable means to share this important security information and ensure proper privacy and liberty for our citizens.

Our talks today and several others like it that will happen over the course of both today and tomorrow will add to the important agreements we expect to reach with our fellow G-8 countries. It's another indication that there is more to unite us than divide.

Most of all, we are united by an abiding desire to provide security and safety for our citizens, and by the freedoms that bind us as partners in the world community.

I might add that in addition to the discussion of aviation security, it was pretty clear, given the roles and responsibilities of the Department of Homeland Security, that the connections that this particular Department has with the European Union and its member nations go far, far beyond just the question of aviation security and we look forward to building a more complete relationship on this range of issues with the European Union in the future.

And I'd ask the Commissioner Vitorino to share a few thoughts.

COMMISSIONER VITORINO: Thanks so much, Secretary Ridge. First of all, on behalf of Gijs de Vries, the new Anti-terrorism Coordinator, and on behalf of the European Commission, I want to thank you very much for this very productive and fruitful meeting.

We have been working together because we share the same values and we share the same political objectives. We want to guarantee that in the transatlantic relationship, there is freedom of movement, that this freedom of movement is guaranteed in the fight against terrorism.

We want to have a world where there is security, and for the purpose of security, we need to cooperate more closely.

A lot has already been done since the 9/11, and since the terror tragic events also that occurred in March this year in Madrid. But a lot has to be done in the future.

We praise the efforts of the American Administration to get an agreement with the European Union on the Container Security Initiative, also on the screening of airline passengers. That is something likely to be concluded in the very short term on the basis of a bilateral agreement between the European Union and the United States of America.

But the agenda ahead of us with now have to focus on border controls, and that's why, for the Justice and Home Affairs area, it is extremely important to have a close cooperation with the Homeland Security Department.

Border controls mean enhancing security in travel documents. And the European Union is committed to introduce biometric features in their visas, in their residence permits for third-country nationals who live in the territory of the member states. We are determined to introduce biometric features in the European citizens' passports. That's why we praise the initiative of the American Administration and Congress to postpone the deadline of requirement for biometric features in the passports for an extra period of time.

We are determined to conclude this process in order to guarantee that the travel documents of the European Union citizens will be more secure. And when I say the travel documents of European citizens, I'm talking about the 25 member states of the European Union as well.

Finally, I'd just like to say that the fight against terrorism is not a short-term fight. We need to be prepared for a long-term fight. And both in the area of border controls, in the area of freedom of movement of people, but also in the area of police cooperation, a changing of intelligence and judicial cooperation. There is a lot to be done but there is a lot that a joint partnership between the European Union and the United States can offer to a safer world. Thank you so much.

SECRETARY RIDGE: Sir.

QUESTION: Secretary Ridge and Commissioner Vitorino, you talked about the fight against terrorism, the joint working on this. Given the light of these recent photos from Iraq and prisoner detainee abuse photos, do you feel this has made both of your jobs more difficult in fighting terrorism here in the U.S. and in European countries? And could it incite Muslim communities here in the U.S. and the European communities, making your job even more difficult, in light of all of this?

SECRETARY RIDGE: That is fairly difficult to predict, but I'm willing to go out on the proverbial limb and say to you that the relationship between the United States and the European Union on the wide range of issues that the Commissioner has raised in his public remarks and we discussed privately, I think is -- there is a momentum there that will continue to build because we realize that in spite of what the revelations may be as they relate to treatment of prisoners in Iraq, there's a longer-term interest that we have in this bilateral relationship to deal with aviation and port security, to deal with the exchange of information. And so I don't believe, in any way, that it will be a deterrent or impede what have been very positive and accelerated developments in these areas. I just don't believe it will.

QUESTION: But in terms of perception, you know, you're trying to deal with these countries. As the furor countries, especially in Muslim communities around the world, does this make it more difficult?

SECRETARY RIDGE: I would let the Commissioner address that, but I think what we have seen is abhorrent to freedom-loving people everywhere, that what has been disclosed and may be disclosed equally dishonorable, distasteful, and known and accepted as absolutely wrong, even unconscionable treatment.

Having said that, that is separate and apart from the work that we have undertaken and will undertake in the months and years ahead. There's a longer-term goal to combat international terrorism, and while the United States is focused on these particular set of revelations, that will not distract us. And I don't want to speak for the Commissioner, but I don't -- it will certainly not distract the Department of Homeland Security from continuing to build the relationship with the European Union.

QUESTION: It doesn't take away our credibility with these communities? Both of you.

COMMISSIONER VITORINO: Well, first of all, let me just say that it is crystal clear that the European Union and the United States Administration condemn any kind of abuse of prisoners and there we share precisely the same position.

I would like to recall you that when we were on the eve of the Iraq intervention, there were different views within the European Union, and between some European Union member states and the United States of America. That is well known. And even in that precise moment, we did succeed in signing, with the United States of America, the extradition agreement and the mutual legal assistance agreement. Why? Because we wanted to make it very clear that our commitment to fight terrorism, especially in these areas of police cooperation, judicial cooperation, border control cooperation, is not hostage of any kind of foreign policy issue.

QUESTION: Are you worried about the community impacts?

COMMISSIONER VITORINO: We are worried about the relationship with Muslim community in Europe far beyond this evidence. That is a permanent element of our strategy to address the fight against terrorism. We need to know better about recruitment procedures, about slipping cells, and above all, we need to establish a very close partnership with Muslim moderates who live in the European Union to succeed in this fight.

QUESTION: But does this affect them at all, though, these pictures?

COMMISSIONER VITORINO: I would say that we will go on with this irrespective of this kind of evidence.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, did you discuss security of the upcoming G-8 summit? And is there a lot of concern, the fight international -- big international event on U.S. soil in a while.

SECRETARY RIDGE: With regard to the --

QUESTION: The G-8 summit in Georgia, yeah.

SECRETARY RIDGE: -- security of the G-8 summit?

QUESTION: Is that something you discussed this morning?

SECRETARY RIDGE: Yes, I'd be pleased to discuss it. As you all know, the Department designated that as a Special National Security Event. There are literally thousands and thousands of law enforcement agents from the federal, state and local level. There are probably well over a dozen federal agencies involved in providing security in that particular site. And every conceivable precaution or preventive measure has been taken, and we're quite comfortable that we can welcome to a beautiful area in Georgia our friends from around the world during the G-8 summit with a guarantee that it may be the safest place on the face of the earth during the time they're visiting.

Mimi.

QUESTION: Could you talk a little bit about the Olympics, the same theory? You had a meeting last week. I know we're not sending people over, right? But you're providing advice -- and what kind of level of concern do you have right now about how security is?

SECRETARY RIDGE: We had a very productive meeting with our friends from Greece with regard to security around the Olympics. In actuality, the Department of Homeland Security has had several people over there dealing with aviation security, port security, in terms of rendering advice, trying to offer opinions we think will be helpful and substantive.

I think there's been a tremendous amount of progress made with regard to security at the Olympics. In the past several months, it's pretty clear that they are going to continue to work to enhance that security at the ports and the airports and the like.

But we felt good about the very productive meetings and that -- the pledge of the Greek Government to continue to work on enhancing and broadening security every single day, up through, including and through the Olympics.

So, a good productive session. I think there was still more work that needed to be done, and we clearly indicated if there was a way that the Department of Homeland Security could be of assistance in a bilateral way, we would be open and welcome the opportunity to assist if they thought we could.

SECRETARY RIDGE: Yes. Yes.

QUESTION: Do you have a Plan B if the European Court of Justice rules that the advance passenger information agreement violates European privacy laws?

SECRETARY RIDGE: Well, I'm not quite familiar with the technicalities of a ruling of that sort. My sense is that it would -- I believe we would still be able to continue to exchange the passenger name records, but I'm going to ask the Commissioner to publicly assess the impact if we had an unfavorable decision from the court.

COMMISSIONER VITORINO: Well, first of all, I would like to clarify that the conclusion of this process has not yet been done. And this week, the Commission will take a decision on Wednesday. And next Monday, the Council of Ministers will take the final decision.

I don't want to anticipate those decisions, but likely those decisions will be in favor in the sense to go ahead with the adequacy finding statement and with the international agreement. That will most likely change the nature of the case, the court case, that has been raised by the Parliament. But I see no obstacles for the proceedings, according to what has been agreed, until the court takes a position in some time.

(end transcript)

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