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10 Feb, 2010 05:00

EU-US debate – tackling terrorism or invading privacy?

The European Parliament is debating an agreement that allows the banking data of its citizens to be scrutinized by American officials.

Washington says this measure is vital to counter terrorism, but many in Europe see it as an invasion of privacy.

In a deal that came into force temporarily last Monday, the EU and the US are sharing banking data conducted through the SWIFT money transferring system. For supporters, including the US government, it seems a key part of the fight against the financing of international terrorism

But a large body of members of the European Parliament sees it as an infringement of the basic rights of EU citizens. They are worried about how much banking information is going to be revealed, how long it is to be stored and the potential for information to be misused or transferred to a third country.

The members of the European Parliament are due to debate the deal on Wednesday and take a final vote on Thursday. Some of the parliamentarians are already dissatisfied with the fact they have not been given the eight weeks they are supposed to have to consider such a deal.

Member of European Parliament Jan Philipp Albrecht claims that the principals of protection of fundamental rights, especially data protection, are not fully considered in the agreement about the SWIFT-data with the US.

“The breaking point regarded what the Council is doing now is about the access of the EU citizens to the US court, it’s about implementing an independent data protecting supervisor’s right to review and so on,” Albrecht told RT. “It’s really important for us to be implemented, so, we think there has to be a general debate before deciding, therefore, we can’t decide at this moment. We want a debate about the fundamental principles in the security cooperation and at the moment the parliament is united about saying this.”

A Dutch member of the European Parliament Sophia in 't Veld has said the EU parliament in large majority has very serious concerns whether this agreement is fully in line with the rules on data protection and fundamental rights.

“This parliament expressed concerns on various occasions in recent years. And we are not pleased with the way that the council – that is the European member state governments – are trying to push this through,” Sophia in 't Veld noted. “They are trying to sideline the EU parliament and since the 1st of December, in a procedure under the new Lisbon Treaty, where the EU parliament has to give its consent to such an agreement. We feel that the European Council should be much more forthcoming and give us access to all the relevant information that we need in order to take a well-founded decision.”