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Europe seeks more privacy against terror searches

Ian Grant

The European Commission has agreed a new mandate for negotiating the transfer of details of private banking transactions to the US, in a move designed to fight terrorism.

The mandate follows the bulk transfer of information about international money transfers made using the Swift international banking network in the wake of 9/11. Disclosure of the move led to an outcry against the invasion of privacy.

The European Commission said account holders' information would be transferred to the US treasury department under the Terrorist Financing Tracking Programme (TFTP). But they would not be subject to open-ended searching.

The data items to be transferred include identifying information about the account holder and/or recipient of the transaction. These include name, address, national identity number and other personal data related to financial messages.

Searches had to be based on enough pre-existing evidence to suspect the subject was connected to terrorism or its financing. Data not subject to a specific search would remain anonymous, it said.

There was an absolute prohibition on transfers on bulk data to third countries. Only leads on terrorists derived from prior analysis could be transferred, the commission said.

The EU also had the right to end the agreement if there was a breach of any of the data protection safeguards.

A court had to approve data transfers, and there were more effective rights of administrative and judicial redress, it said.

Individuals are be able to see what information was transferred and have the right to correct errors and delete the data. Data can be held for five years only.

The commission has to report annually to the European Parliament on the number of messages processed, the sharing of TFTP-derived information and how many counter terrorism cases used TFTP information.

The commission said more than 1450 TFTP-generated leads had been passed to European governments between January and September 2009. These had led to the arrest and conviction of three terrorists in the UK, the identification of an Al Qaeda member who helped plan an attack on aircraft, and helped identify and arrest members of the Islamic Jihad Union (IJU) in Germany. The new deal on bank data transfers is expected this summer.


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