EU protests against US access to Swift banking data

A new deal being negotiated between EU and US authorities to share data from the Swift banking network for counter-terrorism purposes was heavily criticised Wednesday for failing to respect European citizens' privacy.

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A new deal being negotiated between EU and US authorities to share data from the SWIFT banking network for counter-terrorism purposes was heavily criticised Wednesday for failing to respect European citizens' privacy.

The criticism occurred during a debate in the European Parliament.

Sweden, holder of the six-month rotating presidency of the EU, is negotiating an interim agreement to allow the sharing of information about trans-Atlantic financial transactions once SWIFT transfers the data from the US to the Netherlands in the coming weeks.

US authorities have mined the database while it has been on their own soil, claiming that the information helped them on more than one occasion to track down a terrorist.

The move to the Netherlands requires some negotiation, due to European data protection laws that restrict the exporting of data to countries with weaker privacy regimes than those applied in the EU.

The agreement being negotiated will last for a maximum one year, to be replaced by a permanent arrangement once a legal basis for it has been established.

Currently justice and home affairs fall outside the remit of the European Parliament, but once the long-awaited Lisbon Treaty has been passed, the Parliament will be able to participate in this area of EU lawmaking, according to Michele Cercone, an official at the European Commission. The Commission is assisting the Swedish government in the negotiations.

Nevertheless, several MEPs slammed the discussions about an interim agreement. "It is unacceptable that once again the European and national parliaments, representing citizens' interests, are bypassed and being denied a transparent and democratic process," said Sophie In't Veld, a Dutch liberal MEP.

"The interim agreement has more safeguards for Europeans' data than the agreement in place until now," Cercone said, adding that the aim is not to exclude the Parliament, but to take necessary measures to ensure the continued free flow of financial information in the absence of a final accord.

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