The European Union has agreed to grant US antiterror investigators access to a database of banking transactions once again, having withheld access since February this year over data protection concerns.
Following the September 11 attacks, US authorities established the Terrorist Finance Tracking Program to track the funding of terrorist organisations. The EU initially agreed to share data from the Swift international transactions network with the program, but when the original agreement ran out in Febraury 2010 it refused to renew the deal.
At the time, the European Parliament claimed that US authorities were accessing and storing data in bulk, meaning that data relating to non-suspects could be held by the US for long periods. "We want a new and better deal with proper safeguards for people’s privacy," said Martin Schulz, head of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, the second largest party in the European Parliament.
Last night a new deal was announced, under which all data requests made by the US must be validated by Europol, the European police organisation. Also, EU citizens will now have the same rights at their US counterparts to challenge the use of their banking data in front of US courts. A third revision allows the EU to place one of its own officials within the US Treasury to monitor any proceedings against EU citizens.
The revised deal still must be approved by the European Parliament, but it is expected that data-sharing activities will resume from August 1. “After intense confrontation, the EU Council has finally come to terms with our demands," Schulz said of the new deal.
US authorities say that the ability to access the Swift data has helped them close down terrorist cells, but it has not been without controversy. In 2006, London-based human rights organisation Privacy International filed complaints in 32 countries against the Belgian operator of the Swift network, claiming that it was providing “illicit transfers” of personal financial data to the US government.