16th Jun 2019

EU close to sealing bank data deal with US

  • Cecilia Malmstrom is the main negotiator on the EU side (Photo: European Commission)

The European Commission is close to finalising a new bank data transfer deal with the US for anti-terrorism purposes, taking on board account "most" of the European Parliament's privacy concerns raised when it struck down the initial agreement.

"We are very close to finalising an agreement with the US. It contains considerable improvements compared to the interim agreement that was rejected in February," EU home affairs commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said during a press briefing on Thursday (10 June).

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The deal would allow data on EU bank transfers to be sent to US investigators looking for leads on terrorism financing. An initial agreement on the same matter was struck down in February by the European Parliament, due to privacy concerns but also partly because of an inter-institutional power struggle between the chamber and the member states.

Ms Malmstrom, who briefed journalists after having spoken to the key MEPs dealing with the matter, said most of the parliament's requests were taken on board. The legislature must again approve or strike down the deal once it is finalised.

The novelties contained in the draft agreement include the involvement of Europol, the bloc's police and anti-terrorism co-operation body. The agency will examine each request for data transfers and see if it complies with the overall agreement.

Only information requests relating to specific terrorism cases will be approved, with no "general search" for leads being allowed.

"Unjustified requests will be rejected and data will not be transferred," Ms Malmstrom stressed.

The issue of bulk data, however, one of the main complaints of MEPs, is not likely to be solved, as Swift, the main company facilitating international transfers, only stores mass data and cannot filter individual transactions.

The commissioner however said she is trying to make the information requests "as narrowly tailored as possible." Also, the agreement includes the provision that once the EU sets up its own "Terrorism Finance Tracking Programme" (TFTP) like Washington put in place following the 2001 attacks on New York and Washington, fewer data will have to be sent for processing in the US.

The agreement will be in place for five years, but it can be cancelled at any time by either side. Six-month-reviews and several layers of supervisors and independent auditors will also make sure the Americans comply with the agreement.

MEPs dealing with the dossier gave a lukewarm welcome to the result of the negotiations. German liberal MEP Alexander Alvaro said the preliminary deal is "a step forward", but "there are still data protection concerns," he added, asking the negotiators to iron out the outstanding issues.

He singled out the data retention period of five years and warned against "sealing off the deal too fast" at the expense of these concerns.

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