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US can still access SWIFT data: EU Commission


Brussels: The US could still access European Union citizens’ bank transfer data by cutting deals with individual European governments, despite a European Parliament rejection of just that practice, the EU executive said Friday.

The so-called SWIFT agreement allowed the United States to analyse EU citizens’ bank transfers for anti-terrorism investigations, and then provide EU governments with intelligence on suspicious transactions.

A nine-month interim version of the deal came into force Feb 1. But Thursday, EU deputies in Strasbourg decided to reject it.

“We now have to see with our American partners what are the possibilities of a new agreement: contacts are ongoing, but at this point I cannot announce anything,” said European Commission spokesman Michele Cercone.

In the meantime, “nothing stops a third country (such as the US) to negotiate a bilateral agreement with an EU member state or with another European country,” Cercone admitted.

Bilateral deals would likely be struck with Belgium, where the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT) is legally based, or with the Netherlands, where the company holds one of its servers.

SWIFT is a consortium owned by banks and financial institutions that records international money transfers. In 2006, it emerged that US agencies accessed its data from a server the company held in Virginia, raising EU concerns about privacy rights.

Since Dec 31 the information has been stored in servers in Switzerland and the Netherlands, forcing the US to seek European consent to keep accessing the database.