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Privacy And Politics: Russia Wants Data Of All European Visitors And Passersby

Moscow airport
Moscow airport
Javier Cáceres

BRUSSELS- The European Union-Russia summit taking place in Yekaterinburg has a major sticking point forming over privacy for travelers arriving -- or even just passing through -- Russian territory.

The Russian Ministry of Transportation has decreed that airlines flying in Russian airspace, or taking off or landing in Russia, have to provide authorities in Moscow with all the information they gather about passengers when the passengers book their trip. That includes credit card numbers, seating preferences, but also addresses and names at their destinations in Russia.

The decree, which goes into effect on July 1, does not distinguish between airplane passengers and those traveling by train, boat or bus. A spokesperson for EU Commissioner for Home Affairs Cecilia Malmström told the Süddeutsche Zeitung that the decree was the cause of "great concern."

If Moscow does not relent, European airlines would find themselves facing a conflict between EU norms and the Russian Federation. EU law forbids airlines to simply turn over the personal data of passengers outside the framework of an agreement such as the one on passenger data signed between the United States and the EU in 2012.

There is much speculation in Brussels for why Moscow has pushed through the measure. Some believe that Russia may, like the US, justify the move in terms of deterring terrorism and crime. Others say it may simply not want to be treated any differently by the EU than the Americans are.

Knut Fleckenstein, a member of the European Parliament, said that the Russian demands were made in the context of long stagnating negotiations about easing visa regulations. If the Russians "put a massive tree trunk" like the data decree in the path of resolution then it sheds doubt on whether Moscow is truly interested in finding a solution to the visa issue, he said. Under no conditions should the Commission relent on this, he added, urging Moscow to rescind the decree at least for the time being so that a viable way forward could be found for both issues.

Russia is not the only country demanding data, said Green member of European Parliament Jan-Philipp Albrecht: Qatar and Saudi Arabia are making the same demand, he said.

Topics at the Yekaterinburg summit include Syria and energy policy alongside the visa issue. Those in the EU delegation include the head of the Commission, José Manuel Barroso, and Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger.

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Migrant Lives

They Migrated From Chiapas When Opportunities Dried Up, Orchids Brought Them Home

An orchid rehabilitation project is turning a small Mexican community into a tourist magnet — and attracting far-flung locals back to their hometown.

They Migrated From Chiapas When Opportunities Dried Up, Orchids Brought Them Home

Marcos Aguilar Pérez takes care of orchids rescued from the rainforest in his backyard in Santa Rita Las Flores, Mapastepec, Chiapas, Mexico.

Adriana Alcázar González/GPJ Mexico
Adriana Alcázar González

MAPASTEPEC — Sweat cascades down Candelaria Salas Gómez’s forehead as she separates the bulbs of one of the orchids she and the other members of the Santa Rita Las Flores Community Ecotourism group have rescued from the rainforest. The group houses and protects over 1,000 orchids recovered from El Triunfo Biosphere Reserve, in the southeastern Mexican state of Chiapas, after powerful storms.

“When the storms and heavy rains end, we climb to the vicinity of the mountains and collect the orchids that have fallen from the trees. We bring them to Santa Rita, care for them, and build their strength to reintegrate them into the reserve later,” says Salas Gómez, 32, as she attaches an orchid to a clay base to help it recover.

Like magnets, the orchids of Santa Rita have exerted a pull on those who have migrated from the area due to lack of opportunity. After years away from home, Salas Gómez was one of those who returned, attracted by the community venture to rescue these flowers and exhibit them as a tourist attraction, which provides residents with an adequate income.

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