The European Parliament demanded a halt to bank-data transfers to U.S. counter-terrorism investigators because of possible violations of privacy, the latest international outcry over alleged American spying.
The assembly urged the European Commission to suspend a trans-Atlantic agreement on data provision because of concerns that U.S. authorities had unauthorized access to the financial information covered by the deal. Under the program, the European Union lets the U.S. Treasury Department view records from the Swift money-transfer system.
“The U.S. appears to be in clear breach of that agreement following recent revelations about the extent of spying on friendly allies and innocent civilians,” said Sophie in ’t Veld, a Dutch member who helped steer the call for suspension through the 28-nation EU Parliament today in Strasbourg, France. The appeal is not binding on the commission, the EU’s executive arm, which responded by pledging to pursue consultations with the U.S.
Trans-Atlantic cooperation to fight terrorism has become embroiled in the diplomatic fallout over reports of snooping by the U.S. National Security Agency based on documents disclosed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. He has been granted asylum by Russia while facing espionage charges in the U.S.
Two days ago, the French government expressed outrage at a report in Le Monde that the NSA eavesdropped on millions of phone calls inside France and demanded that the U.S. cease the spying. The Foreign Ministry in Paris summoned the U.S. ambassador after the newspaper said the U.S. had intercepted and recorded 70.3 million bits of “telecommunications data” from Dec. 10, 2012, to Jan. 8, 2013.
Three days ago, the Mexican government condemned the NSA’s alleged hacking in 2010 of the e-mail account of then-President Felipe Calderon, saying such actions are unacceptable and violate international law. The Mexican Foreign Ministry was responding to a report by Der Spiegel in Germany.
Such news reports have also stirred U.S. tensions with countries including Germany and Brazil. Allegations of NSA spying against Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff prompted her last month to call off a state visit to Washington.
“It is increasingly evident that the NSA data-tracking programs go far beyond the fight against terrorism,” said in ’t Veld, who belongs to the EU Parliament’s pro-business Liberal group.
The commission said it has “no indications” from consultations already begun with the U.S. that the bank-data transfer pact, known as the TFTP agreement, has been violated. During this process, the American side “has provided detailed explanations and assurances,” said the Brussels-based commission in a statement.
The commission said it would keep the trans-Atlantic accord in place while conducting further checks with American officials on the accuracy of “allegations of access to financial-messaging data in the EU contrary to the TFTP agreement.”
“We are still waiting for additional written assurances that the commission has requested from the U.S.,” EU Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem said. “We will follow up our request for written assurance with the U.S. without delay and keep the European Parliament fully informed.”
Privacy has traditionally been a sensitive matter in the EU Parliament. In February 2010, ignoring the appeals of European governments and the U.S. administration, the assembly rejected a version of the data-transfer accord after saying it lacked adequate protection of personal information. Five months later, the Parliament endorsed a revised agreement after winning extra provisions to protect privacy.
The EU-wide accord is the U.S. government’s preferred tool for collecting European data under the Terrorist Finance Tracking Program created after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, avoiding country-by-country requests and making the transfers less politically controversial.
Swift, with headquarters in Belgium, relays money-transfer orders among more than 10,000 banks and other financial institutions in over 200 countries and territories.