MEPs decry 'breach of trust' in EU-US data deal
With the EU's police agency Europol rubberstamping bank data requests from the US and following 'oral orders' from American investigators, MEPs have warned they may block future data transfer deals with the US.
"After reluctantly having given our consent to this agreement, we feel betrayed in reading this report, since it's also about the credibility of the European Parliament and the EU itself," German Liberal MEP Alexander Alvaro said during a parliamentary hearing on Wednesday (16 March).
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Earlier on, Isabel Cruz, the chairwoman of Europol's supervisory board presented the findings of an inspection report casting serious doubts about the usefulness of the agency checking data requests from the US.
Oral explanations which inspectors could not verify and data requests "too broad" to be properly judged against the proportionality criterion are the main causes for concern.
"Europol has a role which is extremely confused. We always said it had to be a judicial body verifying the legality of data requests, not a police co-operation agency," Cruz said, in defence of the Hague-based agency.
Added at the insistence of MEPs themselves when re-negotiating the agreement they first struck down, Europol had to grapple with procedural rules and when asking the EU commission for clarifications on specific provisions of the agreement, it got the reply that the commission "cannot interpret the agreement."
"It's clear Europol has violated what we asked them to do. If it gave its okay to very broad data requests, it dis something wrong," Greek Socialist MEP Stavros Lambrinidis said.
He added that he personally opposed the Europol being given such a role, but "the pressure from the US was too big."
"This report shows obviously there are infringements which no EU court would accept. The conclusion would be to cancel the agreement," said German Green MEP Jan Philipp Albrecht.
Supporters of the EU-US deal also slammed the findings of the Europol report.
"It's our own institutions, not the US, that fail to provide us with the information we need. We want reassurances the data protection rules are being enforced," British Conservative MEP Timothy Kirhhope said.
Initially set up as a covert program following the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on the US, the so-called Swift agreement was struck down in February last year when MEPs found there were too few data protection provisions. They later on agreed to an amended deal, which included the Europol provision.
EUobserver understands that the agreement could be suspended, but MEPs would be reluctant to call for this since the non-compliance issues lie on the EU side, not the US. A final decision is also pending a report due to be published on Thursday by the EU commission about the implementation of the agreement six months after its coming into force.