EU Demand Explanation On US Plan To Monitor Money Transfers

The EU commission and several MEPs have requested clarifications from Washington on reported plans to expand an anti-terrorism program,  targeting financial transactions. A move that could end in an annulment of the the long-debated “Swift agreement” adopted in August.

“We are all getting a bit tired of being taken by surprise all the time. The US is our friend and ally, so we shouldn’t be treated this way.”

Sophie in’t Veld

The Washington Post reported Monday that the Obama-administration is looking into expanding the existing anti-terrorism programs targeting bank transfers to the extent that a long-debated so-called “Swift agreement” with the EU would no longer be valid.

“We urgently seek clarifications from the US if these plans are an infringement  of the Swift agreement and the EU commission promised to demand further information on it,” Dutch Liberal MEP, Sophie in’t Veld, said to the on Monday evening after a closed-door meeting with commission officials.

Under the current rules, US officials can request European data relevant to a specific terrorist investigation from the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, known as “Swift”.

The request needs to be approved by the EU’s police co-operation unit, Europol, and has to meet certain requirements.

Need No Reason

But if the new plans comes into effect, the transactions between European and US banks would be captured “regardless of whether there is a substantiated need,” according to the Washington Post.

Responding to the news, Ms in’t Veld said:

We are all getting a bit tired of being taken by surprise all the time. The US is our friend and ally, so we shouldn’t be treated this way.

The Swift Network

Fooled Again?

Set up in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington in 2001, the “Terrorism Finance Tracking Program” was initially a covert operation, tapping Swift data without the Europeans knowing about it.

It was only when the story broke, in 2006, that Washington engaged in basic negotiations with the EU, while keeping the program up and running.

How it used to work, between 2001 and 2006.

Using its new powers, acquired with the Lisbon Treaty, the European Parliament in February struck down the interim agreement, interrupting the data flow for half a year.

A final agreement was subsequently negotiated by the EU commission, with extra privacy and oversight provisions, and came into force on August 1th this year.

“We see so many data transfers – passenger name records (PNR), Swift data, credit card information connected to the travel fee – that we are wondering where all this ends,” the Dutch MEP said.

Ms. in’t Veld is responsible for drafting the Parliament’s position on the so-called PNR agreement, which, like the Swift programme, was put into place after the 2001 terrorist attacks and which requires all airlines who fly to or over the US to deliver personal data on their passengers to the American authorities.

The PNR agreement was already struck down once by the European Court of Justice for having the wrong legal basis and the current version is pending approval by the EU legislature.

A compromise solution designed to discourage the parliament form using its “nuclear option” veto is currently being prepared by the EU commission with extra data protection provisions in place.

How it's supposed to work, at the moment.

Sophie in’t Veld presented earlier this month guiding principles for new negotiations with Washington.

The talks could start by the end of this year, and are set to be approved by EU’s interior ministers in October.

“I am not blaming the US for asking us for so much data. They test where the limits are and unless the EU draws some lines, they will take as much as they can,” Ms in’t Veld said.

That may very well be true, but as regular readers of the Econotwist’s Blog know; this is a a really shady deal…


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