European Commission defends US gagging order

The European Commission said the US has the right to prevent access to a document about data sharing

The US has the right to prevent access to a document about data sharing between Europol and the US government because it contains classified US information, according to the European Commission.

Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) asked to see the document following allegations the US has access to details of transactions made on the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (Swift) international financial messaging platform.

In October 2014, MEPs called for a review of the Terrorist Finance Tracking Program (TFTP) agreement between the EU and US following allegations made by whistleblower Edward Snowden the National Security Agency (NSA) tapped the Swift network. 

A non-binding resolution was passed by 280 votes to 254, with 30 abstentions. But MEPs have been denied access to the details of the 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.

A statement from the European Parliament in October 2014 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."

The European Commission has defended the block on EU officials seeing the document.

Swift is a not-for-profit co-operative 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 10,000 financial services businesses use the network and in 2010 it processed more than four billion financial transactions.

According to EUobserver.com, the EU’s ombudsman, Emily O’Reilly, said the situation amounts to giving the US “a veto over the democratic oversight" of EU institutions.

“It may well be the case that it contains sensitive data from the US and so should not be released – but we have no way of knowing without sight of the report,” she said. “It should be pointed out that this is a document from an EU institution.”

The importance of the Swift network in processing world payments has given it a role, that it does not want, in global politics. In September 2014, the UK suggested blocking Russian companies from Swift at an EU meeting. This was suggested as a sanction in reaction to Russia’s role in the current crisis in Ukraine. 

In 2012, the European Union prohibited financial messaging services, such as Swift, from dealing with Iranian banks

Read more on IT for financial services

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