European Parliamentarians have slammed the latest Swift bank data sharing deal with the US, saying that six months after it was introduced checks put in place are failing and American requests for information simply rubber stamped by Europol.
After months of wrangling, MEPs finally voted in favour of the Terrorist Finance Tracking Program (TFTP) last summer having secured measures to ensure privacy. These included a role for Europol in verifying that US requests are justified.
However, half a year on MEPs on the civil liberties committee say that US requests for banking data "are too general and abstract to allow Europol to check whether they meet EU data protection standards, and Europol seems to be merely rubber-stamping them".
The four requests made by the US over the last six months have been almost identical and very abstract, says a Commission report into the data sharing agreement, leading MEPs to say this should be "borne in mind" when the Parliament is asked to approve future data transfer agreements.
The EU review team report recommends that in future Europol receives as much information as possible from US authorities in written form. Further recommendations aim at increasing the transparency of the programme and making improvements to Europol's verification procedure so that US requests are "substantiated in a more verifiable way".
"As Members of Parliament we feel betrayed reading this report," says Alexander Alvaro, Parliament's rapporteur on the TFTP agreement. "We voted in favour [of this agreement last year] in the trust that both parties would apply the adopted agreement."
The parliamentarians have slammed Europol's role in handing over data in response to oral requests by the US authorities and asked the body's director to come to the committee to explain himself.
Entrusting this task to Europol "is like putting the fox in charge of the chicken coop," argue Sarah Ludford, Liberal Democrat MEP, while fellow parliamentarian Stavros Lambrinidis says: "Europol should not have been the body to oversee this - we all underlined at the time that Europol should not have been entrusted with this role."
Presenting the report to Parliament, home affairs commissioner Cecilia Malmström, struck a more conciliatory tone: "Today's report shows that all the relevant elements of the agreement have been implemented in accordance with its provisions, including the data protection provisions...We must continue to work together in order to improve our cooperation even further and implement the recommendations put forward by the EU review team as regards increased transparency and more written information to Europol."