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EU, US Reach Agreement on Exchange of Information - 2002-12-19

European Union justice ministers have endorsed a key agreement for exchange of information with the United States on crime and terrorism suspects.

The agreement will allow the United States access to information held by Europol, which gathers police intelligence from the 15 EU member states. This will save agencies like the FBI from having to ask individual nations for information on suspects.

The data involved includes personal information such as names, phone numbers, addresses and bank account information on suspects in cases involving terrorism and other serious crimes such as illegal drug trade, forgery and bomb making.

The move is part of the EU's post-September 11 pledge to support the U.S. -led fight against terrorism. It will supplement an existing agreement under which Europol and U.S. agencies are exchanging technical and strategic information.

Critics are worried about the range of U.S. agencies that could have access to sensitive information, and are concerned that European citizens will not be informed that their personal information is being transferred to the United States. However, under Europol rules, EU nations can impose restrictions so that certain data cannot be handed over.

The deal is to be signed by EU and U.S. officials Friday in Copenhagen.

Washington wants deeper cooperation with Europe, where several al-Qaida cells were found after last year's attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center. Mohamed Atta, the suspected ringleader of the September 11th attacks, along with two other hijackers, lived in Hamburg, Germany in the 1990s.

Meanwhile, a majority of the EU justice ministers also backed a plan on extradition, paving the way for approval of a treaty next year. The proposed accord has raised concerns in Europe over the use of the death penalty in the United States and possible military tribunals to try terrorist suspects. But diplomats say negotiations have produced safeguards that satisfy the European concerns.