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U.S. Seems Set, Finally, to Get Access to EU Financial Data Against Terrorism     Print Email

The European Parliament seems set to approve the so-called “Swift Pact” this week in a second vote. The Parliament had rejected an initial deal between Washington and the European Commission on U.S. access to financial transactions – ostensibly on grounds that it violated privacy rights but also, as parliamentarians avow, because the parliament wanted to assert its new authority gained in the Lisbon Treaty.

Now, after some changes in the Commission’s terms with Washington, the pact seems set to go through. Passage will activate provisions for the U.S. Treasury to get access to data about financial transfers (often via the system known as SWIFT) for the purpose of identifying terrorists’ financial activities. In February, the Parliament rejected the initial SWIFT pact on grounds that it did not include enough measures for privacy protection.

 The Lisbon Treaty has given the European Parliament more oversight authority over transatlantic agreements – a vocation that the Parliament compares to Congressional oversight in the U.S. of international accords passed by the executive branch – the President in the U.S. and the Commission (or the Council) in the EU. The agreement in question is the Terrorist Finance Tracking Program (TFTP), which was passed in the last hours before the Lisbon Treaty took effect. The Parliament rejected the accord in February.

Amid the continuing new turf battles between the Parliament and the Commission as both bodies try to find an effective working relationship, Cecilia Malmstrom, the EU’s home affairs commissioner – the EU counterpart of the Secretary for Homeland Security – has now written to the Parliament about the impending vote on the issue, explaining that the new terms provide all the privacy guarantees sought by European Parliamentarians.

Her letter explains the details of the new U.S.-EU agreement. The new agreement, she wrote, “is an achievement for all EU institutions and in particular the European Parliament, whose tough demands for enhanced protection of European citizens’ privacy have been fulfilled. The new agreement offers a twofold guarantee to European citizens: first, complete transparency as far as access and use of data are concerned and second, access to appropriate tools and redress procedures to make sure that privacy is protected.”

And, she added, “we should not forget the initial purpose of it all: the TFTP is a key instrument in our fight against terrorism.”

Similar discussions over Passenger Name Record (PNR) are underway.

European Affairs