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22nd Jun 2018

EU hands personal data to US authorities on daily basis

  • It was revealed in 2006 that American authorities were secretly accessing and pulling data from SWIFT (Photo: SWIFT)

EU and US co-operation in combatting terrorism remains shrouded in secrecy as Europol, the EU police agency, refuses to render public an inspection report that details how financial data is handed over to US authorities.

The document, written by the joint-supervisory body (JSB) which supervises the data protection rules are properly applied at Europol, noted on Thursday (21 June) that the EU agency transfers bulk data on a daily basis to the US department of treasury.

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The transfers follow a controversial terrorist financing tracking program (TFTP) agreement, adopted by the European Parliament in the summer of 2010.

TFTP provides the US authorities information on international financial transactions via the European transactions processing firm Swift. The aim is to prevent and fight terrorism and its financing.

Many MEPs were led to believe the European Commission would, within a year of the agreement, set up a system that would ensure the Americans would only get the data they had required.

But two years later the Commission has yet to implement a system that would filter out the data, says Dutch Liberal MEP Sophie In't Veld.

“The Americans want a needle, and we give them a haystack,” In't Veld told this website.

“Europol has never rejected a request. They also grant requests orally over the telephone. It is a complete violation of the terms of the agreement,” said In't Veld.

Europol is supposed to verify that US requests for SWIFT data comply with the terms of the international agreement. They do not see or manage the provided data, which is transferred directly from the source to the US treasury.

However, the terms would supposedly limit the number of transactions and ensure EU data protection protocols are respected. Requests must be tailored as narrowly as possible to minimise the amount of data requested, says the agreement.

But the JSB report, of which only 3.5 pages were made public, noted that “Europol does not know the amount of data actually transferred.”

Furthermore, the JSB report says data relating to certain financial transactions are provided to the US “for a time frame containing every single day of the year, year on year.”

Rob Wainwright, director of Europol, told the European Parliament committee of civil liberties that the Americans had requested the Commission label the full JSB document an EU secret.

“It’s classified EU secret by the US and quite frankly I’m not going to break my own legal framework that would potentially harm the public interest,” said Rainwright.

He also rejected the allegation that requests are made over the telephone. He noted that the Americans attach a document, averaging 56 pages in length, explaining why they need the data in each request.

Europol's internal assessment of the requests adds another ten pages, on average. The JSB say these explanations and assessments are generally just copy-pasted.

Rainwright also noted that single euro payment area (SEPA), an initiative by the European banking industry to make all EU payments electronic, is never handed out the US. However, SEPA was already excluded from the TFTP agreement, said In't Veld.

“We [European Parliament] lied to the public when we said we took their interest first. We did not. This is unbelievable in my view,” stated Green MEP Jan-Philip Albrecht.

The US press had revealed in 2006 that American authorities were secretly accessing and pulling data from SWIFT.

SWIFT was then relocated to Europe in 2009 where more stringent data protection rules would reportedly prevent the Americans from illegally accessing the financial transaction trails of European citizens.

Commission pushes for document secrecy despite court judgement

The EU commission and national governments are seeking to tighten rules granting access to their internal documents despite a ruling by the European Court of Justice calling on them to release legal opinions drafted by the EU Council’s legal service.

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