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Abuse in spirit

Interview: Christian Ignatzi / sms
October 23, 2013

The EU parliament has suspended an accord on sharing banking data with the US. Intended to fight terrorism and organized crime, there are allegations the NSA used the deal to spy on Europeans, says MEP Birgit Sippel.

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DW: What exactly does the SWIFT Agreement cover?

Birgit Sippel: The agreement covers under which conditions the United States can access bank data and under which conditions we provide bank data to the United States. We agreed to the deal because it could be a good way of fighting organized crime and terrorism.

Why did the European Parliament vote to suspend the agreement on Wednesday?

In light of the many reports about the surveillance program run by the NSA intelligence agency, accusations need to be taken seriously and a signal needs to be sent. We are saying that we will not give in to everything but want to cooperate with the USA. European citizens are not terrorists to be indiscriminately spied on. Civil rights need to be protected. And I think that without suspending the agreement this message will not be received by the United States. What I hope most is that the signal is received by EU member states that have not been particularly active on this issue.

Did the United States abuse the agreement?

They abused the spirit of the agreement. If it is discovered that access to servers, or cables or whatever else included more banking information, then that would be a clear breach of the agreement. The indiscriminate surveillance, including of citizens' information, of European institutions and many other things, raises serious doubts about whether data was collected only to fight terrorism and its financing. You have to assume that data was also used for other purposes.

Birgit Sippel (* 29. Januar 1960 in Bochum) ist eine deutsche sozialdemokratische Politikerin und seit der Europawahl 2009 Mitglied des Europäischen Parlamentes.
Sippel is a Member of European Parliament from Germany's Social DemocratsImage: privat

What effect will suspending the agreement have?

I can still transfer money to the United States when I buy something there or travel there on business. But the data would no longer be passed on to US authorities

How long could the suspension last?

That depends on the European Union's member states as well as the United States. It also depends on the willingness of the United States to cooperate with us and on getting clear details about whether or not banking data has been collected. As Social Democrats, we are saying that we want to suspend it to send a signal but not forever. We are calling on EU members to look closely into the allegations.

The SWIFT logo Photo: Fredrik von Erichsen dpa
SWIFT will remain in place unless two-thirds of EU governments vote to suspend itImage: picture-alliance/ dpa

So the suspension of the agreement is a success?

Yes, but I want to point out that our vote on the resolution will not be immediately put in place. It still needs a two-thirds majority in the Council of the European Union because the agreement was passed by both houses. It's up to the Council to take a position. Still, the resolution is a success because the Council will have to take a position and make clear why it does or does not find it necessary for there to be consequences.

How likely do you think it is that the Council will follow the EU parliament's lead on this?

When I look at all the accusations and what the reaction from the national governments has been so far, I am not particularly optimistic.

Birgit Sippel, 53, has been a Member of European Parliament from Germany since 2009. She works on issues of civil rights, domestic policy and structural policy.

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