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Europe threatens to pull out of US data-sharing deal over NSA surveillance claims

Bryan Glick

The European Parliament is threatening to pull out of a deal that allows US authorities access to European financial payment networks for tracking terrorist funding, as a result of the revelations about US internet surveillance.

The US National Security Agency (NSA) stands accused of unauthorised tapping into the Swift network used for international bank transfers, based on documents leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden.

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The European Union (EU) and the US have an agreement called the Terrorist Finance Tracking Programme (TFTP) that allows the US government to request data from Swift to investigate links to terrorism finance. The agreement stipulates limits to how the US can use that data.

MEPs at an inquiry held by the European Parliament’s Civil Liberties Committee heard the US has yet to give “satisfactory replies” to EU concerns about Edward Snowden's allegations.

Home affairs commissioner Cecilia Malmström said she wrote to US Treasury undersecretary David Cohen on 12 September.

“I am not satisfied with the answers I got so far," Malmström said.

MEPs agreed that suspending the TFTP deal is a possibility.

"For me the TFTP agreement is effectively dead. It is null and void," said Dutch MEP Sophie in't Veld.

"Approving an international agreement is like signing a blank check. The only reason I had to support it no longer exists."

But other contributors to the inquiry pointed out there is still no concrete evidence to substantiate Snowden's claims of the NSA snooping on Swift.

"We simply have no evidence of the US being in breach of the TFTP agreement, so we cannot confirm or deny any of these allegations," said Rob Wainwright, director of the European police agency Europol.

Blanche Petre, general counsel for Swift added: "We have no reason to believe there has been an unauthorised access to our data.”

Earlier this week, a briefing report produced for the European Parliament to support the inquiry recommended some drastic measures to put pressure on the US over alleged NSA surveillance.

The report suggested all existing data-sharing agreements between Europe and the US should be revoked, and US website providers should be forced to prominently inform European citizens their data may be subject to government surveillance.

The report, written by British privacy expert Caspar Bowden, said recent revelations show existing regulations such as Safe Harbour – that allow US firms to process EU data outside EU borders – are no longer sufficient.

Swift has headquarters in Belgium and provides a network that sends millions of financial transaction messages every day across 209 countries. It is used by more than 8,000 finance firms.


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