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SWIFT deal

February 5, 2010

The US is threatening to stop working with Europe in the fight against terrorism after an EU parliamentary group rejected a proposed data-sharing agreement. A final EU vote is scheduled for next week.

A hand holding euro notes in front of an ATM machine
The US wants access to the financial data of European citizensImage: AP

The United States has warned that it may stop working with EU institutions on terrorist data exchange if the European Parliament next week blocks a bilateral deal on the issue.

"If the European parliament overturns the agreement, I am unsure whether Washington agencies would again decide to address this issue at EU level," US ambassador to the EU William Kennard wrote in a letter sent to European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek, according to news agency AFP.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also called Buzek and EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton to voice Washington's concern over the issue.

Members of a European Parliament subcommittee dealt a blow to US-EU relations by voting to reject a proposed bank data sharing deal between the US and Europe in a preliminary vote on Thursday.

The agreement allows the US to access information gathered by the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT) about bank transfers within Europe. SWIFT manages global transactions between thousands of financial institutions in over 200 countries.

Members of the parliament's civil liberties committee voted by 29 votes to 23 to reject the SWIFT deal, arguing that the deal fails to protect the privacy of EU citizens.

US authorities say access to bank details is vital to counterterrorism efforts, but many in Europe object to the widespread invasion of privacy.

Agreement in jeopardy

The proposed short-term agreement went into force on February 1 for an initial period of nine months, while the two sides negotiate a permanent system. However, the interim agreement still has to be ratified by the European Parliament. The committee's rejection of the measure, though advisory in nature, could be an indication that the bill will fail in the final parliamentary vote. If parliament votes against it next week, the measure will be suspended.

The US previously had access to bank transfer data, but lost it when Belgian-based SWIFT moved its servers from the United States to Europe. It now wants a permanent agreement granting access to the data, which US terrorism investigators say has played a key role in several cases, including one in which they say an attack on a trans-Atlantic flight was prevented.


Editor: Nancy Isenson