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Parliament committee rejects EU-US bank data deal

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(BRUSSELS) - A key EU parliamentary committee on Thursday pronounced against a controversial agreement giving the United States access to Europeans' bank data as part of anti-terror probes, putting the deal in jeopardy.

The vote by the chamber's civil liberties committee was bound to rile Washington which has warned that it would be a "tragic mistake" and leave US and European citizens more vulnerable to attack.

Nevertheless the majority of the concerned MEPs recommended that the parliament should reject the data-sharing deal when it meets in plenary session in Strasbourg next week.

In their eyes the deal allowing US authorities to access through the SWIFT interbank system does not offer sufficient guarantees on the protection of private data.

In backing the deal with Washington the EU Commission and member states "have not respected the fundamental criticism about the lack of sufficient protections with regard to privacy and the rule of law," said the Green's home affairs expert Jan Philipp Albrecht.

The parliamentary civil liberties committee vote "has sent a clear signal in favour of civil liberties and democracy in Europe," he added.

European governments have already endorsed a nine-month agreement permitting US justice authorities to access data from the interbank transfer service SWIFT, but the deal needs EU parliamentary backing to have legal weight.

An earlier agreement has ended so the EU has been trying to draw up the interim deal with the hope of thrashing out a more permanent arrangement by late this year.

The Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT), based near Brussels, deals with trillions of dollars in global transactions daily between nearly 8,000 financial institutions in 200-plus countries.

In 2006, SWIFT admitted that it had provided US authorities with some personal data in the wake of the September 11 attacks in 2001 for the purpose of fighting extremists but insisted it had done its utmost to protect privacy.

A SWIFT spokesman told AFP Wednesday that the flow of the data to the United States had already been suspended.

"The interim agreement came into force on Monday, however it requires enndorsement by the European parliament.

"That has not happened therefore there is no legal basis on which we can be compelled to transfer intra-European message data to the US," SWIFT spokesman Euan Sellar said from the company's Brussels headquarters.

The centre-right European people's party, the largest bloc in the chamber, supports the EUïUS data deal but does not enjoy a majority.

The Socialists, liberals and Greens all vote against the accord Thursday.

Further information :

    Press release on SWIFT Interim Agreement - 27-01-2010
    Web site of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs

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