updated 9/30/2006 9:54:28 PM ET 2006-10-01T01:54:28

The United States and the European Union failed to reach a new deal on sharing air passenger data by Saturday’s deadline, though officials disagreed about the impact on trans-Atlantic air travel.

“There is no agreement,” European Commission spokesman Jonathan Todd said. “There is a legal vacuum as of midnight tonight. We have to discuss on Commission level what to do next.” He said the EU executive would debate the issue Thursday.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said the failure to agree would not cause disruption in trans-Atlantic air travel.

“The talks did not break down,” Chertoff said in a telephone interview Saturday. “Their delegation had to go home and that’s fine.”

Chertoff said he’d been assured that European airlines would continue to transmit passenger data and said he didn’t think European governments would penalize them for doing so.

Detailed data shared after takeoff
Reaching a new deal before a court-imposed deadline was an EU priority to ensure airlines could continue to legally submit 34 pieces of data about passengers flying from Europe to U.S. destinations. Such data — including passengers’ names, addresses and credit card details — must be transferred to U.S. authorities within 15 minutes of a flight’s departure for the United States.

The EU’s top court in May ruled that the deal put in place after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States was illegal because it was not using the right legal basis under EU law. It did not rule on the deal’s content.

An EU court allowed the data to keep flowing until Sept. 30 to give officials time to negotiate a new deal.

Washington has warned that airlines failing to share passenger information face fines of up to $6,000 per passenger and the loss of landing rights.

Airlines could face penalties
Without the deal, airlines that hand over passenger data to U.S. authorities could face legal action from national data protection authorities in EU states, the Commission said.

Chertoff, though, said he had been assured that airlines would continue to transmit the data. “There’s no intention for them to interfere with the continued transmission,” Chertoff said.

He also said he didn’t expect airlines to be fined.

“I don’t envision that while we’re in these discussions any country in Europe is going to take some precipitous step to put the airlines in a difficult position,” he said.

Chertoff said there is no legal vacuum because U.S. law is clear that airlines have to provide information about people entering this country.

“This should not be a big issue,” he said. “I can tell you from dealing with the negotiators who were over here that everybody’s negotiating in good faith.”

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