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Europe

US accesses European bank data under controversial SWIFT agreement

US terror investigators can now take advantage of the terms of an agreement drawn up with the EU, which gives them access to the details of bank transfers taking place between the EU and the rest of the world.

SWIFT logo

SWIFT deals with about 80 percent of the transfer market

The USA will from Sunday have access to the details of European bank transactions, which investigators claim will help them fight terrorism. The so-called SWIFT agreement gives US authorities access to information about bank transfers which go through the Belgian-based financial messaging company.

SWIFT has around 80 percent of the electronic transfer market. The company enables transactions between around 8,000 banks in 200 countries. The US will be able to demand information about transfers that take place between the European Union and the rest of the world. However, because SWIFT does not have the structures in place to filter the information, they will send data in bulk packages to the US.

German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière said the controversial agreement between the EU and the USA was an important step in the international fight against terror.

Privacy concerns

However, some members of the European Parliament are worried that this could infringe the privacy of innocent individuals. The European Parliament has worked to build safeguards into the system to prevent any misuse of data. The issue has been debated since 2006, and at various stages MEPs have put pressure on the Council of Ministers for more parliamentary control and increased personal data protection.

The Green MEP Jan Philipp Albrecht is worried that the agreement reached between the EU and the US will be "a step backwards for negotiations for a comprehensive privacy rights in international security operations."

"It's a real shame that the EU is weakening their influence over the USA with this agreement," Albrecht said. "We need more courage to make a real change in the field of data protection in the fight against terror."

Author: Joanna Impey (AP/dpa)
Editor: Andreas Illmer

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