Current Affairs

US given sexual orientation information on travellers

Yepoka Yeebo July 24, 2007
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The European Commission quietly approved an agreement this Monday which gives the US Department of Homeland Security unprecedented access to the personal information of anyone on a transatlantic flight, including details of their sexual orientation.

The DHS insists on the right to use the information for disease control, and there are fears that gay passengers may be singled out as possible HIV risks.

The plans involve upgrading information which is already sent by airlines to the DHS on the 4-million-plus Britons who visit the US every year, including payment details, home address and the passengers in-flight meal choice.

The agreement adds 19 possible new categories, including information on ethnic origin, political and philosophical opinions, credit card numbers, trade union membership, sex life and details of the passengers’ health.

The information will be provided by passengers when making bookings.

The US is not required to provide this information about its citizens.

Franco Frattini, vice president of the European Commission, said more sensitive information would be filtered out, and only used, “in exceptional cases, and to fight terrorism and other serious crimes.”

Peter Hustinx, the European data protection supervisor, wrote to the Commission expressing his ‘grave concern’ that there is no mechanism for EU citizens to challenge misuse of personal information and that there was no legal precedent.

“Data on EU citizens will be readily available to a broad range of US agencies and there is no limitation to what US authorities are allowed to do with the information,” he said, according to The Guardian.

“I have serious doubts whether the outcome of these negotiations will be fully compatible with European fundamental rights, which both the Council and the Commission have stated are non negotiable.”

Last week, the European Parliament said it noted that sensitive data will be made available to the DHS and that this data may be used by the DHS in exceptional cases, leading to, “a significant risk of massive profiling and data mining, which is incompatible with basic European principles and is a practice still under discussion in the US Congress.”

It emerged over the weekend that neither Hustinx nor the European Parliament knew about the final draft of the plan.

The European Parliament went into recess last week, so most MEPs are on holiday and not available to comment.

In 1987, fear about the spread of AIDS led US officials to require anyone with HIV to declare their status and apply for a special waiver visa.

This led to many people not declaring their status upon arrival. It also meant that no international AIDS conferences could be held on US soil.

Restrictions were lifted in 2006, allowing HIV+ people a ‘categorical waiver’ similar to the 60 day automatic visas that UK business and tourist visitors receive.

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