EU to vote on suspending Swift/US data sharing deal

EU to vote on suspending Swift/US data sharing deal

The European parliament is to stage a vote on whether the EU-US agreement on the transfer of data handled by the Swift international banking network should be suspended following allegations of Internet surveillance by US authorities.

Under the current agreement, which was concluded in 2010, the EU provides the US with payment data of EU residents to help fight terrorism.

The issue was red-flagged by parliamentarians sitting on the EU's Civil Liberties Committee after allegations surfaced that the NSA had been tapping personal financial data from Swift.

At a meeting in September, Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmström said she had written to US Treasury Under Secretary David Cohen on 12 September to ask for clarifications.

"I am not satisfied with the answers I got so far," Malmström told MEPs. "We need more information and clarity."

The move to vote on the issue follows parliamentary approval for a shoring up of EU data protection rules to give citizens more control of their personal data.

Improvements include Internet users having the right to have their data erased on request and being asked for their explicit consent before a company or organisation can process their data. Sanctions for breaching the rules should be increased to €100 million or 5% of companies' annual turnover. In addition, if a country outside the EU asks another firm to disclose personal information collected in the EU, it should first seek the authorisation from national data protection authorities.

Today's vote on Swift data sharing with the US, although non-binding, will cast a long shadow over the current arrangements and sets the stage for a European showdown with US authorities over future access rights to EU banking data.

In a statement issued ahead of the vote, Malmström says: "We will follow up our request for written assurance with the US without delay and keep the European Parliament fully informed. In the meantime, the provisions of the TFTP Agreement that clearly regulate the transfer of personal data, and that provide effective safeguards to protect the fundamental rights of Europeans, will remain in place."

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