EU parliament group backs U.S. bank data deal

A European Parliament committee said on Monday it supported a deal with the United States on sharing citizens' bank data, a move which investigators say will help counter-terrorism investigations.

The vote in the parliament's civil liberties committee followed weeks of negotiations between Washington and the European Union to improve privacy safeguards in the agreement after lawmakers vetoed an earlier version in February.

The EU has won concessions from U.S. officials on how bank data will be transferred and used, allaying concerns over insufficient protection of Europeans' private information.

"We have achieved an equilibrium, respecting the rights of our citizens to privacy and freedom as well assuring their need for security," said Alexander Alvaro, a Liberal deputy from Germany.

EU deputies voted 41-to-9 to approve the deal, signaling parliament was likely to ratify it in a vote later this week.

This will give investigators from the United States access to information on bank transfers collected by the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT), which they say is an important tool to tracking suspects.

But any transfers of data held on SWIFT servers in Europe to the United States will be monitored by EU officials who will have the power to block them if are deemed inappropriate.

Under the agreement, EU citizens will also be able to complain in U.S. courts or government agencies if they suspect their data is incorrect or wrongly used.

SWIFT said in 2006 that it had been cooperating with the U.S. authorities as part of their anti-terrorism activities after the September 11 attacks in 2001. But investigators lost access to the data when the organization moved some of its servers to Europe.

[Source: Reuters, Strasbourg, 05Jul10]

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