Free U.S. access to European financial data may end

Published 9 February 2010

In the wake of 9/11, the EU gave the U.S. government free access to European bank and financial data under the SWIFT agreement; the Civil Liberties Committee of European MPs has just recommended that the EU reject renewal of the treaty; for the United States such access is essential to the fight against terrorists and their finances

The European Commission has opened a public consultation on whether the U.S. government should continue to get free access to European bank and financial data under the SWIFT agreement.

The United States claims it needs access to our bank accounts in order to fight terrorism — it has had free access since shortly after 9/11. The Civil Liberties Committee of European MPs yesterday recommended, however, that the Parliament reject renewal of the treaty; MEPs only recently got powers over external treaties.

John Oates writes that this may sound like just hot air from Brussels, but the treaty is up for a vote next Thursday. MEPs want the data protected in the same way as it would be in Europe<.

Furthermore, yesterday the European Commission adopted a decision changing the standard contract for companies that send data outside the European Union. This provides protection for European citizens by essentially guaranteeing that exported data is stored and processed according to European law.

The changes, detailed here, extend this protection to outsourced companies which might process data on behalf of U.S. firms. In simple terms it extends data protection principles to subcontractors used by the initial data importer, wherever that subcontractor might be.

So when a U.S. firm brings data out of Europe it must still follow EU law. This is now extended so that the data is passed on to an outsourcer, that company must also follow EU law.

The consultation documents are here. You have until 12 March to have your say.

The United States is already making noises — Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has called Europe’s foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton, AFP reports.

reassured to learn that she shares her living room with a full-size Dalek, Wikipedia tells us.