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Commission approval of US banking data transfer contradicts privacy watchdog

March 17, 2011 9:58 AM

The European Commission has today published a positive assessment of the Terrorist Finance Tracking Programme agreement with the US which is at odds with the verdict of a privacy watchdog.

The agreement permits and regulates the sharing of 'SWIFT' European banking information for counterterrorism purposes. The original agreement was rejected by MEPs in February 2010 due to serious data protection concerns, and a re-negotiated agreement with much stricter rules on checks, data storage and redress for misuse was approved last July.

Europol was given a role in verifying that US data requests met the criteria for specific identification, necessity, proportionality and narrow scope. However its Joint Supervisory Board (data protection supervisor) had told MEPs it is impossible to verify whether Europol has done this job, not least because of secrecy.

Liberal Democrat European justice & human rights spokeswoman and London MEP Sarah Ludford said:

"It is a mystery how the Commission can affirm that the oversight system has effectively delivered safeguards when Europol's own watchdog has said 'it is impossible to check' and that monthly bulk transfers seem just to have been nodded through."

"This puts MEPs in an impossible position: whose version do we rely on in carrying out our duty of accountability? If we are expected to approve future arrangements for transferring personal information, such as on airline passengers, we must have a stronger basis for knowing whose verdicts we can trust and why."

"I fully support data-sharing for targeted investigations. But it is obvious that the data searches amount to mass data-mining and profiling, which raises major worries about the consequences of casting suspicion on innocent people."