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Banking secrecy

July 25, 2009

The European Commission's plans to share banking transaction data with US anti-terror officials have drawn criticism from German officials.

A lock on a chain
Banking secrecy under attackImage: Bilderbox

German politicians and government officials have reacted angrily to a plan by the European Commission to renew an agreement with the United States, which gives American anti-terror officials' the ability to scrutinize the banking activities of European citizens.

SWIFT moves trillions of dollars daily

The oversight occurs through the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Transactions or SWIFT.

SWIFT handles millions of transactions and processes trillions of dollars in global transactions daily between 8,000 financial institutions in over 200 countries.

SWIFT logo
Moving money around the world

US authorities have been examining financial transfer information on the SWIFT servers since the September 11 attacks in order to track funds used for terror activities.

In October, SWIFT is planning to relocate its database and servers from the US to the Netherlands. When this happens, the US government will no longer have access to SWIFT transactions within Europe, since they will no longer be routed through the US. They would have to rely on EU nations and EU laws for future access to financial transaction information from within Europe.

According to EU data protection rules, all information on money transfers may only to be used for banking purposes and not for investigating the financing of terrorist activities.

SWIFT has admitted that it provided US authorities with some personal data since the 9/11 attacks, but insists it has done everything it can do protect the privacy of citizens.

German politicians not happy

Alexander Dix, the German Data Protection Commissioner has called the plan to share banking data with US anti-terror authorities "unacceptable," and urged the German federal government to oppose it

German politicians were quick to criticize the proposed arrangement as well.

"There is absolutely no reason to implement this program head over heels," said European Parliament Member Wolfgang Kreissl-Dörfler of the Social Democratic Party, who wants to slow down the approval process.

FDP politician Max Stadler
FDP politician Max Stadler speaks outImage: picture-alliance/ dpa

Max Stadler of the liberal Free Democratic Party told the newspaper the program violated privacy protection laws.

The vice-chairperson of the Left Party, Halina Wawzyniak accused the United States of engendering terrorist paranoia.

"There is the danger that every person who transfers even a cent from one account to the other is completely open to examination," said Wawzyniak.

"It is surprising that the EU Commission would be willing to compromise European data protection values and act as a henchman for U.S authorities." said Marit Hansen, deputy director of the independent data center in Schleswig-Holstein, was quoted as saying.

The plan is expected to be approved by the 27 EU foreign ministers in Brussels on Monday.

Editor: Kateri Jochum