The European Parliament has approved a bank data sharing scheme that the United States says is crucial to fighting terrorism. Brussels and Washington say they have ensured safeguards to protect Europeans' privacy.
Details from bank payments can help track terrorists
European bank data will be accessible to United States terrorism investigators after the European Parliament passed a data sharing scheme on Thursday. The US says the agreement is vital in tackling terrorism.
In February, European lawmakers initially rejected the scheme, citing concerns that personal information, including details from electronic bank payments, would be used by the US authorities, held for too long and handed on to other governments.
However the EU and United States have now agreed on a set of measures to prevent intrusions into the privacy of Europeans.
"The agreement caters to both security and privacy concerns," said Alexander Alvaro, a German Liberal European lawmaker.
Under the new deal, Europol, the European police organization, will check the validity of US requests and EU representatives will monitor how the data is used. EU citizens will also be able to contest the use of their data before US courts.
SWIFT data was used in the investigation into the Madrid terror attack
Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the Terrorist Finance Tracking Program allowed the US access to information from the interbank money transfer system SWIFT. Investigators typically request SWIFT records in order to follow up on information such as names, account numbers and addresses.
Many of the SWIFT servers have recently been relocated to Europe, necessitating a data sharing deal with the EU.
The EU wants to set up its own program to track terrorist finanes, which would enable it to sift through data on its own and select what to send to Washington. Officials said a European program could be operational in three to five years.
Germany's data protection agency says it is still highly critical of the compromise treaty between the European Union and the United States.
Peter Schaar, the agency's top official, said the deal is "not in the least satisfactory."
Schaar said his main criticism is that 97 percent of the information is not relevant and never used, but will be stored by the US in any case.
MEPs voted 484-109 in favor of the five-year data sharing deal between Brussels and Washington.
Author: Catherine Bolsover (AFP/AP/dpa/Reuters)
Editor: Martin Kuebler