Oct 20 2006

Europeans: Time to ask for your travel records

If you are a citizen or resident of the European Union, and have travelled to the United States, now is the time to ask for copies of your travel records.

Unlike Americans, Europeans have the right to know who is keeping records about you, what information is in your records, and to whom it has been given.

Airlines that fly from Europe to the U.S. have been illegally turning over passenger name records (PNR’s) to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Those records include where, when, and with whom you travelleled, your credit card information, and much more.

And the DHS is still not satisfied. They want more data, they want to keep it longer, and they want fewer rules about how they can use it or who they can give it to:

The chief U.S. negotiator … said Washington would push for the right to hold data on passengers for longer than the current arrangement of 3-1/2 years. “Our usual rule for law enforcement data is that it is kept for about 40 years, but the real question is how long is it likely to be relevant,” said Stewart Baker, assistant secretary for policy at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Baker described restrictions included in the current accord as “almost a code of conduct for the United States” but said he was confident that negotiations due to start with Europe would lead to some of them being relaxed in any future pact.

The only way to find out what’s in your travel records, and what is being done with them, is to request them under your country’s data protection laws. Then, if the data protection law has been broken, you can complain to the authorities, or bring a lawsuit.

First, request your travel records from the travel agency or tour operator that booked your flights to the U.S., and the airline you flew on. When they respond, they should tell you which computerized reservation system (CRS) they use. Then you can request your records from the CRS as well. There might be records in two different CRS’s, with different data, if the travel agent uses one CRS to make the booking and send it to the airline, and the airline hosts its database in another CRS.

Here are sample letter for U.K. citizens and residents to request your travel records from travel agencies, tour operators, airlines, and CRS’s. If you are in another country, you can modify these to refer to your national data protection law: