European Union denies US snoops access to electronic banking data

By Stephen C. Webster
Thursday, February 11, 2010 20:10 EDT
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A U.S. push to legally access data generated by Europe’s electronic banking activity has been rebuffed by EU lawmakers in a vote of parliament, according to published reports.

Though U.S. snoops have been allowed to access data through the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (Swift) since the beginning of February on the basis of a provisional security agreement, “Liberal, Socialist and Green euro-MPs” were successful in vetoing the deal, Euronews reported.

Citing privacy concerns, members of parliament voted 378 to 196 in favor of the veto, with 31 members abstaining.

“U.S. diplomats in Brussels called the move ‘a setback for U.S.-EU counter-terror cooperation,’” Dow Jones Newswires noted.

Resistance to the arrangement was led by Dutch lawmaker Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, Dow added. “We all know what the [U.S.] Congress would say” if the Obama administration proposed sending Americans’ bank data overseas, he reportedly said.

Members insisted that should an arrangement for U.S. access to Swift data be put in place, U.S. authorities must adhere to EU standards of privacy, members declared on the parliament’s Web site.

“Without the deal, the United States must now rely on individual agreements with EU member nations in order to access information, such as European bank transfers,” Voice of America news added.

The U.S. National Security Agency (NSA), however, have been examining Swift data since 2001, even without EU permission. When this fact was revealed in 2006, MPs declared it illegal and threatened sanctions against the U.S.

Swift claimed the data was legally handed over through its U.S. branch after being served with numerous subpoenas and that information revealed was “limited, targeted, protected, audited and overseen.”

“Swift handles millions of transactions daily between banks and other financial institutions worldwide,” the BBC noted. “It holds the data of some 8,000 banks and operates in 200 countries.”

Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
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