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Europe grants US access to bank data to fight against terrorism

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2010-07-08

After weeks of negotiations between Washington and the EU, the European Parliament approved Thursday a deal granting US terrorism investigators access to sensitive information regarding European bank transfers which will help combat terrorism.


REUTERS - The European Parliament gave the final approval on Thursday to a deal with the United States that grants terrorism investigators access to sensitive information about Europeans' bank transfers.
The vote ratifying the deal followed weeks of intense negotiations between Washington and the European Union to improve privacy safeguards, after lawmakers vetoed the previous version in February on concerns over data security.
Without the information, investigators say, their ability to track people suspected of terrorist activities is limited.
U.S. President Barack Obama welcomed the ratification, saying the revised deal was in line with his administration's efforts to protect fundamental rights while combating terrorism.
"The threat of terrorism faced by the United States and the European Union continues and, with this agreement, all of our citizens will be safer," he said in a statement.
Obama's administration has sought to rebuild ties with European allies on issues such as data sharing, after the previous administration of George Bush took a more "go it alone" approach.
During negotiations over the data sharing deal, the EU has won assurances from the United States that EU representatives will be able to vet requests for bank information and oversee how it is used by counter-terrorism investigators.
"(The agreement) contains the key protections we would expect to see in an international data-sharing deal," said Claude Moraes, a British member of the European Parliament from the Socialist grouping.
The five-year agreement will go into effect in August, giving investigators access to information collected by the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT), which records most global money transfers.
Searching for traces
U.S. investigators have tracked cash linked to terrorism suspects since the Sept. 11 attacks, but their access to data has heightened European concerns over potential privacy abuse.
European and U.S. officials have said the data collected has helped investigations into numerous attacks in Europe, such as the 2004 bombings in Madrid and those in London in 2005.
It also played a role in a Norwegian investigation that led to arrests of three men on Thursday suspected of planning attacks and having links to al Qaeda, a U.S. official said.
Investigators typically request access to chunks of SWIFT records to follow the trail of fundamental pieces of data such as names, account numbers and addresses.
But they lost access to the data when SWIFT moved some of its servers from the United States to Europe over the last year, necessitating a data-sharing deal with the EU.
"What this programme allows us to do is to make connections between people and entities that are involved in terrorist activities," U.S. Undersecretary of the Treasury Stuart Levey told reporters. "Sometimes the leads don't come in the form of a money transfer, but verification of identification or location."
The amount of data transferred has been a major concern for EU lawmakers who say passing on data in bulk to be processed in the United States violates EU citizens' rights.
Under the new agreement, EU citizens will be able to complain in U.S. courts or to government agencies if they suspect their data is incorrect or wrongly used.
Washington has also agreed to assist the EU in creating its own programme to track terrorist finances. Over time this would allow the EU to conduct its own investigations and process data.


Date created : 2010-07-08


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