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MEPs call for suspension of EU-US bank data deal in response to NSA snooping

Karl Flinders

Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) have passed a resolution calling for the suspension of an EU agreement with the US that allows US authorities to monitor financial transactions on the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications (Swift).

MEPs want the Terrorist Finance Tracking Program (TFTP) suspended while Edward Snowden’s allegations that the National Security Agency (NSA) tapped the Swift network are investigated.

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It also called for a technical investigation into allegations that the US authorities have accessed Swift servers. This follows revelations of snooping by the NSA based on documents leaked by whistleblower Snowden.

The non-binding resolution was passed by 280 votes to 254, with 30 abstentions.

Swift is a not-for-profit cooperative which began in 1973, with 239 banks on board from the start. Swift’s network, known as Swift FIN, sends an average of 17 million financial transaction messages between banks every day across 209 countries. About 8,000 financial services businesses use it. During 2010, it processed more than four billion financial transactions.

There have been allegations that US authorities have accessed data in Swift datacentres, which could be in breach of the TFTP agreement.

TFTP 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 did  give “satisfactory replies” to EU concerns about Snowden’s allegations.

A statement from the European Parliament said: “MEPs deplore the fact that no EU member state has investigated these allegations and urge EU countries to authorise an inquiry by Europol's Cybercrime Centre. The resolution also calls for a full on-site technical investigation of allegations of the US authorities having had unauthorised access to, or having created possible back doors into, the Swift servers."

It continued: “Press reports allege that the US National Security Agency (NSA) has been tapping into EU citizens' personal financial data handled by Swift. The US authorities' access to these financial data is strictly limited by the TFTP deal. If proven, such activities would constitute a clear breach of the EU-US agreement."

Although the Parliament has no formal powers to suspend or terminate the deal, the European Commission would have to act if Parliament withdraws its support for it. 

“Parliament will take account of the Commission's response to this demand when considering whether to give its consent to future international agreements,” said the statement.

Swift has invested heavily in ensuring its transactions do not need to pass through the US. It has spent the last five years building a European datacentre underground as part of a €175m project to make it possible to fully process European transactions in Europe.

The Distributed Architecture (DA) project, as it is known, ensures transactions made between European organisations remain in Europe. In the past, transactions would pass through a US datacentre to be processed, but this means transactions never have to leave Europe.


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