EU Parliament urges suspending data deal with U.S.

By Juergen Baetz

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 23 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden Biden, center, receives a standing ovation after his address to the European Parliament in Brussels, Thursday, May 6, 2010.

Virginia Mayo, Associated Press

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BRUSSELS — European lawmakers on Wednesday called for the suspension of an agreement that grants U.S. authorities access to bank data for terror-related investigations, marking a sharp rebuke of Washington's surveillance programs.

The European Parliament's non-binding resolution, which was adopted in a 280-254 vote with 30 abstentions, followed leaks by Edward Snowden alleging the U.S. National Security Agency targeted a Belgium-based system of international bank transfers, known as SWIFT.

The measure's opponents said cancelling the agreement would jeopardize a powerful law enforcement tool that allows investigators to analyze money flows related to terrorist activities. The supporters maintained the alleged spying grossly violated the agreement and thereby voided it.

The so-called Terrorist Finance Tracking Program (TFTP) could only be suspended by a two-thirds majority of the 28-nation bloc's member states if a violation were to be proven.

The European Commission, the bloc's executive arm, said it will press U.S. authorities again "without delay" for a complete explanation of what happened.

"We have no indications that the TFTP Agreement has been violated, but we are still waiting for additional written assurances that the commission has requested from the U.S.," EU Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said.

But EU lawmakers from the center-left parties argued the agreement must be suspended until the U.S. brings credible proof to rebut the allegations.

"The reports of the NSA tapping into the SWIFT data mean that there are now serious doubts that this agreement offers any real legal guarantees and safeguards for EU citizens' personal data," European Socialists and Democrats lawmaker Claude Moraes said. "After several weeks, the U.S. has still not denied these reports or provided sound and irrefutable evidence."

A precursor to the current TFTP agreement was launched by the U.S. Treasury shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks.

In 2010, the European Parliament initially rejected a permanent agreement, but eventually backed it after obtaining a stronger protection of EU citizens' data.

Under the agreement, a European security authority, Europol, assesses whether the data requested by the U.S. are necessary for the fight against terrorism, according to the European Commission. Europol also verifies that each request be tailored as narrowly as possible.

Reports based on material leaked by Snowden, however, alleged that U.S. intelligence services hacked SWIFT's computers to soak up even more data without having to seek prior consent of EU authorities.

SWIFT, the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, oversees international bank transfers.

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