EU wants to share more bank details with the US authorities

By EDRi · July 29, 2009

This article is also available in:
Deutsch: [EU will noch mehr Bankdaten an die US-Behörden weitergeben |]

The dispute between EU and the US on access to the bank transfer details
has come again to the public attention after the Belgium company SWIFT
(Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication) that
intermediates the international banking transactions has decided to open
a new server in Switzerland that will focus on European customers.

SWIFT has now two servers in the Netherlands and in the state of
Virginia, with identical data. After 11 September 2001, US intelligence
services had gained access to the system, including to European
inner-transactions. This became public in 2006 and led to a data
protection outcry. In 2007, a first agreement was reached between the US
and the EU to establish what set of SWIFT data can be accessed by US
authorities and under what circumstances.

The European Commission also appointed the French judge Jean-Louis
Bruguière to examine if the US really use the data only for the
anti-terrorism fight. The report, that has never been made public, was
presented to the European Parliament on 17 February 2009 and concluded
that the data was deleted when no longer necessary and that the US
authorities fully respect the agreement with the EU. But Bruguière, the
Vice-President of the Tribunal de Grande Instance in Paris, has in the
past 25 years gained a reputation as France’s “leading terrorist
hunter”, so the outcome of the report was predictable.

SWIFT will open a new server in Switzerland for inner-European
transactions in September, which would exclude US authorities from
accessing these. While this would have eased a lot of the criticism from
data protection commissioners and the European Parliament, the European
Commission is now drafting a new agreement with the US authorities
before the new server starts operations.

This met heavy cricism from MEPs, as the European Parliament would again
be sidelined by this. MEPs as well as national-level politicians also
criticized the plan on substantial grounds, citing fundamental privacy
concerns. The chairman of the Austrian social democrats in the EP said: “the EU is not a colony of the US”. Some MEPs have already questioned
the re-election of Commission president Manuel Barroso. Because of the
upcoming federal elections and the rising worries about surveillance
among the German population, vocal criticism came especially from German
politicians, including many Greens, the chairman of the Liberal Party,
the conservative Bavarian head of government Horst Seehofer, and others.

EU justice commissioner Jacques Barrot denied these accusations in a
meeting on 23 July with the members of the newly formed European
Parliamentary Committee on civil liberties, justice and home affairs. He
also concluded that he wants in fact a better deal: “We must negotiate
an agreement based on reciprocity rather than allowing the US to
continue as they have up until now as if they were top dog.” According
to a Commission spokesperson, the deal will not include EU access to US
banking transactions, though.

Jaques Barrot confirmed that the Commission wants to re-negotiate this
agreement after one year. By then, the Lisbon Treaty, which would give
European Parliament a much more important role in this field, is
expected to be in force. But an interim agreement was needed to be
rapidly concluded in order not to stop the anti-terrorism fight.

The Council of Foreign Ministers gave a green light on 27 July to the
project, by unanimously agreeing to allow the Swedish Presidency to
negotiate a temporary agreement with the US regarding access to data
held by SWIFT. According to news reports, the mandate includes that the
data would be given to US authorities on a per-request basis and could
be stored in the US for five years.

Apparently, the EU bodies want to built their own system of banking
surveillance, that might include the SEPA (Single Euro Payment Area)
transaction system. This may be done in connection with the proposed
“Stockholm Programme”, the EU’s justice and home affairs work plan for
2010 to 2014. The draft already stipulates:

“The instruments for combating the financing of terrorism must be
adapted to the new potential vulnerabilities of the financial system and
to the new payment methods used by terrorists. We must have a mechanism
that allows both adequate monitoring of financial flows and effective
and transparent identification of people and groups likely to finance
terrorism. ”

Brussels wants to nullify protection of banking data (only in German,

EU looking for better deal on data transfer (23.07.2009)

EU still wants to give financial data to US intelligence services (only
in German, 28.07.2009)

EU will weiter Finanzdaten an die US-Geheimdienste geben

EU-US data sharing causes uproar in Germany (28.07.2009)

EU supports more anti-terror data sharing with US (28.07.2009)

EU Review of the United States’ “Terrorist Finance Tracking Programme”
confirms privacy safeguards (17.02.2009)

Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the
Council: An area of freedom, security and justice serving the citizen
(known as the “Stockholm Programme”, 10.6.2009)

EDRi-gram: Terrorist Finance Tracking Program raises privacy questions