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EU backs anti-terror deal with U.S. on bank data

Reuters | June 27, 2007
Ingrid Melander

The European Union approved a deal on Wednesday setting conditions for the U.S. Treasury Department to consult records of the international banking network SWIFT in anti-terror probes, EU diplomats said.

"We agreed on SWIFT," a diplomat said of an accord aimed at allaying European data privacy concerns over the U.S. fight against terrorism.

EU and Belgian privacy watchdogs said last year SWIFT broke European privacy laws by allowing the U.S. Treasury Department secretly to consult its records in terrorism probes after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, a practice first revealed by the New York Times.

Washington said the access was essential for its global drive to dry up funding sources for suspected extremist cells.

Brussels-based SWIFT said its U.S. office was obliged to obey U.S. subpoenas.

Since then, EU and U.S. officials have worked to find arrangements acceptable to both sides.

Under the deal backed by EU ambassadors on Wednesday, to be rubber-stamped by ministers on Thursday, data would be kept for a maximum of five years and the United States could only use it for counter-terrorism purposes, a diplomat said.

A senior European official would be appointed to monitor how the data is used.

To satisfy U.S. conditions, these arrangements take the form of unilateral U.S. commitments spelled out in a letter, the diplomat said.

SWIFT, which handles global financial transfers, is a cooperative owned by roughly 7,800 financial institutions in more than 200 countries that use it.

SWIFT announced earlier this month it had decided to modify its messaging architecture to ensure that intra-European data be stored only in Europe, and not in the United States. It said it would take it three to four years to put the new system in place.

SWIFT's board is due to approve final details of that plan in September.

Brussels and Washington are holding talks on Wednesday to try to replace an interim deal on the transfer to the United States of private data on transatlantic air passengers -- another sensitive data privacy issue in EU-U.S. relations.

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