Digital Civil Rights in Europe

Article published in EDRi-gram 7.17, 9 September 2009

On 1 September 2009, the Civil Liberties Committee of the European Parliament (LIBE) held a hearing on the renewal of the agreement which is now under negotiations between the EU and the USA on data transfers via the SWIFT financial data network.

LIBE members have shown concern about the legal basis for the agreement and about that fact that the European Parliament has been kept out of the negotiations, and are asking to be involved in the drafting of the agreement.

SWIFT case started in 2006 when it came out that US administrative authorities were accessing data held on European citizens on the SWIFT financial network based in Belgium without the knowledge of the European authorities. Under the pressure of European Parliament and some Member States, measures were taken to ensure some privacy guarantees and the USA had to ensure that the collected data was used solely for anti-terrorist purposes.

The new agreement under discussion follows a change in the architectural structure of SWIFT which, according to head of SWIFT Lázaro Campos, “is a key factor in the security of our clients”. The system is to have a storage centre for the European data in Switzerland.

The change of structure was encouraged by Peter Hustinx, the European Data Protection Supervisor who believes such a change would mean that the data would be stored in Europe. However, he expressed his concern regarding the necessity and proportionality of and interim agreement with the USA and called for the European data to be placed under the European data protections regulations.

During the hearing on Monday, Gilles de Kerchove, the European anti-terrorism coordinator, said that the Terrorist Finance Tracking Program, which is based on the SWIFT network, “is a very precious instrument in Europe too. It is of benefit to our Member States”. Also, according to Jonathan Faull, European Commission DG Justice director-general, an agreement is necessary “so that SWIFT can operate in a legal framework. A number of negotiating criteria have therefore been proposed to reach a temporary accord, which will apply until a definitive agreement comes in under the Lisbon Treaty”.

Several MEPs expressed their concerns related to the interim agreement especially regarding the lack of involvement of the European parliament and asked for the details on the SWIFT case to be made public. Austrian MEP Ernst Strasser considers that the European data should be processed according to European standards. In his opinion companies and citizens must have legal certainty. “It is important to conclude an agreement quickly, involving the European Parliament closely, then to renegotiate with a new mandate after Lisbon” he concluded.

European Parliament agenda (2.09.2009)…

SWIFT: European bank data transfers must comply with European standards, say MEPs (3.09.2009)…

European Parliament: MEPs voice concerns over SWIFT payment agreement between EU and the US (4.09.2009)

EDRi-gram: EU wants to share more bank details with the US authorities (29.07.2009)

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