24th Nov 2020

Commission official to bridge 'supervision gap' of Swift agreement

Pressed by the coming into force of the "Swift agreement" on 1 August, the EU commission is about to appoint an interim "technician" to oversee the searches conducted by US authorities on European bank transactions as part of anti-terrorist investigations.

The supervisor's task is to check the way American investigators are conducting their searches through the personal data of Europeans whenever they have a lead on a terrorism suspect receiving or sending money via the old continent.

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  • The EU supervisor will have a technical but important job (Photo: Photo: Xoe Cranberry)

The main company targeted by this agreement is the Belgium-based Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (Swift), which had been supplying the US with this data for its "Terrorism Finance Tracking Program" - initially a covert operation set up in the aftermath of the 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.

The appointment of this "independent EU person" was a condition laid down by the European Parliament for approving the deal last month, after it had struck down a previous version in February citing poor data protection provisions.

Under the job description, the interim supervisor, pending security clearance from the US authorities, will have the authority "to block any or all searches" that are broader than the scope of the agreement – for instance random searches or "algorithmic profiling or computer filtering."

But as the regular selection procedure is expected to last "two to three months", the EU commission is about to send someone provisionally to Washington, until the "definitive appointment" is made, a spokesman said Thursday (29 July).

The appointment was "very technical, not political" and the name of the interim official will not be made public, Michele Cercone, spokesman for home affairs, said during a press briefing.

The interim person could be someone holding a position within the EU mission in Washington and dealing with home affairs, which would mean that he or she already has the necessary clearance to take up the post next week.

Washington is eager to have the agreement in place as soon as possible, warning that the months lapsed since the beginning of the year, when the data flow was interrupted, resulted in a "security gap."

It is expected that an information request will be put forward by the end of next week, with the first data flowing around 20 August, after Europol, the EU police co-operation agency, had given its approval.

"Because everything was rushed through, in the name of the 'security gap', we are now facing a supervision gap. But it's better to have someone provisionally than nobody at all," Dutch Liberal MEP Sophie in't Veld, one of the critics of the agreement, told this website.

As to the secrecy surrounding the interim appointment, Ms in't Veld said this was a wrong approach. "We don't want someone in the secret service, we need transparency, to be able to ask questions. It doesn't have to be a terrorism fighter, the job of this person is to oversee the implementation of the agreement. He or she should be a data protection specialist," she explained.

The EU commission points to the fact that the final appointment will be the result of an open contest, but does not exclude that the interim person keeps the job permanently.

A spokesperson for the US government said that Washington is "working very closely with the Eu to implement all aspects of the agreement, including the role of the EU-appointed monitor."

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