Labor wants DHS pledge on union data

Oct. 12, 2007 at 10:10 AM
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WASHINGTON, Oct. 12 (UPI) -- Labor leaders have written to U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff urging him to declare he will not collect information about union membership.

John Sweeney, president of the AFL-CIO, and Edward Wytkind of its Transportation Trades Department say they are concerned about language in an agreement the Department of Homeland Security struck with the European Union regarding the transfer of data about airline passengers.

The agreement covers a category of sensitive information, such as “personal data revealing racial or ethnic origin, political opinions, religious or philosophical beliefs, (and) trade union membership.”

Such information can be accessed only in “an exceptional case where the life of a data subject or of others could be imperiled or seriously impaired,” according to a letter earlier this year from Chertoff to the EU Council of Ministers.

“We agree with the department’s objective to identify those representing a genuine threat,” wrote the labor leaders in their letter Thursday, “but we categorically reject the notion that union membership has any bearing on this determination.”

Although there is no indication that the data transferred under the agreement -- which is collected by travel agents and airlines when tickets are booked -- will actually include information about union affiliation, the letter says their concern is based on reports about other kinds of data collected by the department for screening purposes, and on the fact that the department plans to use the EU agreement as a model for deals with other countries.

Sweeney and Wytkind urge Chertoff “to state clearly that (Homeland Security) will not collect information on union membership” and ask him to “clarify that the U.S.-EU data-sharing agreement will not include an exchange of union information and that this principle will be followed in future data-sharing accords.”

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