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article imageEU committee recommends refusing U.S. access to bank information

By Chris Dade     Feb 5, 2010 in World
The civil liberties committee in the European Parliament on Thursday recommended that the parliament's MPs reject a deal that would allow U.S. authorities to continue accessing information held by a Brussels-based international money transfer system.
Since shortly after the 9/11 attacks in the U.S. in 2001 the authorities in Washington have reportedly had unrestricted access to information held by the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT).
According to the London Times the U.S. has argued that it needs the information held by SWIFT to enable it to identify those financing international terrorism.
However the BBC reports that the fact the U.S. was able to access the SWIFT data, and was indeed accessing it secretly, did not become known until five years after the 9/11 attacks.
And now, with concerns that there is insufficient protection for personal information built in to the current arrangement, the civil liberties committee has recommended that when MEPs vote on a nine-month extension to the agreement next Thursday it is to block the agreement's extension.
It appears that the U.S. is so fearful that it may no longer have access to the SWIFT data that its Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has spoken with two high-ranking EU officials to express those fears.
While the London Times notes that Mrs Clinton has spoken to Jerzy Buzek, the former Polish Prime Minister and current President of the European Parliament, The Register says that it is Catherine Ashton, the British politician who is the head of Foreign Affairs for the EU, to whom Mrs Clinton has turned.
Under the Treaty of Lisbon, which came in to force on December 1, MEPs enjoy more say when it comes to international treaties, the BBC explaining that justice and home affairs are two key areas in which MEPs now have "real power to shape EU legislation".
Martin Schulz, the German politician leading the Socialist group of MEPs, said of the recommendation to reject the EU-U.S. agreement on sharing personal financial data:We want a new and better deal with proper safeguards for people’s privacy. The fight against terrorism is a priority, but the EU cannot be allowed to ride roughshod over its citizens' fundamental rights
Meanwhile, in another development related to the protection of personal information, the European Commission, the EU's executive body, on Friday agreed to a change in the contract which applies to companies sending or taking data outside the EU.
The Register indicates that at present, when data is taken outside the EU, to the U.S. for example, if it relates to European citizens then it is still subject to European laws on processing and storage.
After Friday's decision by the European Commission, regardless of where they are in the world, if sub-contractors receive data to process they must follow the same European laws on protecting that data as the parties that took it outside the EU originally.
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