Thursday

23rd Jan 2020

US gag order on EU police agency stirs controversy

  • Swift: Brazilian media say the NSA snooped on the Belgian firm (Photo: Swift)

The European Commission on Thursday (8 January) defended a US gag order imposed on the EU’s police agency Europol.

It means EU lawmakers and most officials are not allowed to scrutinise a document - on implementation of the EU-US Terrorist Finance Tracking Program (TFTP) - written by Europol’s own internal data protection committee, the joint-supervisory body (JSB).

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or join as a group

A commission official said the Americans have a right to refuse access because some of the classified data in the report belongs to them.

But the EU’s ombudsman, Emily O’Reilly, told MEPs in the civil liberties committee the situation amounts to giving the US “a veto over the democratic oversight of EU institutions”.

“It may well be the case that it contains sensitive data from the US and so should not be released - but we have no way of knowing without sight of the report,” she said.

“It should be pointed out that this is a document from an EU institution.”

The issue was already raised in 2012 when three and a half pages of the report were released after Europol had classified the rest as EU Secret.

Also known as the Swift agreement, TFTP gives agents from the US treasury department access to data on Europeans' financial transactions in a bid to identify terrorist financing.

Europol hands over the data on the basis that it first makes sure each request complies with the terms of the Swift pact.

But the JSB says most of the data transferred to the US concerns people who are not suspected of any crime and have nothing do to with terrorism.

The European Commission made the same admission in a communication paper out in 2011 where it noted “the vast majority of this data concern citizens who have nothing to do with terrorism or its financing.”

The commission paper added that data is provided in bulk rather than on individual basis because Europol doesn’t have the technical means to evaluate request.

The data-sharing agreement courted even more controversy following revelations by the former NSA agent turned whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Media reports, based on the revelations, said the US intelligence agency had also secretly tapped into the international bank transfer firm Swift, which holds the data.

The revelations prompted the European Parliament to ask the commission to dump the data pact in October 2013.

But the commission refused after launching an inquiry that relied on two one-to-one meetings, an exchange of letters, and statements from US officials - denounced by MEPs as a sham.

The issue remains contentious for the MEPs who signed off the agreement in 2010 on the premise that certain safeguards would be guaranteed.

MEPs feel those safeguards, including access to the JSB report, are now being undermined.

O’Reilly stepped into the debate after Dutch liberal Sophie In't Veld’s request for the whole report was refused.

When the EU ombudsman asked to see the report in order to determine if Europol had correctly applied rules on access to documents, she was also turned away in April 2014.

“For the first time in its 20-year history, the European Ombudsman was denied its right under statute to inspect an EU institution document, even under the guarantee of full confidentiality, as part of an inquiry”, she said.

EU hands personal data to US authorities on daily basis

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.

Thousands apply for EU border guard posts

Around 7,500 applications were sent to Frontex to fill 700 new border guard posts. The guards will become official EU staff and wear a yet to be unveiled 'European Union' uniform.

Interview

Cloud of mistrust over Malta's new government

Malta's new government does not look likely to turn it into a normal, law-abiding EU state any time soon, the son of slain journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia has said.

Belgium, France, UK in EU court surveillance blow

Although non-binding, a critical opinion from the EU's top court could mean laws in Belgium, France and the UK allowing for the indiscriminate bulk collection of people's data may have to be eventually amended to respect EU privacy rules.

News in Brief

  1. UK watchdog unveils online child-privacy standards
  2. Alleged 'bully' nominated for EESC presidency
  3. Greens/EFA fail to agree on accepting Catalan MEPs
  4. MEPs approve over 55 gas projects for EU funding
  5. Italy deputy PM Di Maio quits as Five Star party leader
  6. EU investment bank to keep pressure on Turkey over gas
  7. 'Rare' migrant boat from Belgium to UK sinks
  8. First annual rule of law report expected this year, Reynders said

European politicians caught with Russian 'fake likes'

Politicians and political parties in Europe have had bots generate fake 'likes', views, and comments to boost their online popularity, in what has been described as outright voter manipulation.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of Ministers40 years of experience have proven its point: Sustainable financing actually works
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Baltic ministers paving the way for 5G in the region
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Climate Action Weeks in December
  5. UNESDAUNESDA welcomes Nicholas Hodac as new Director General
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture

Latest News

  1. EU warned on 'vigilance' after Davos spy fail
  2. What's Libya's impact on EU foreign policy?
  3. EU commission 'lacks ambition' on future conference
  4. Will US privacy-lite hollow out GDPR?
  5. Senior Polish member at EU body faces Belgian abuse probe
  6. Why isn't Germany helping gay rights in Hungary, Poland?
  7. US retiree, scammed by former EU official, awaits justice
  8. Vienna-Brussels night train returns amid EU green talk

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  2. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  3. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  5. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us