As reported by the BBC and others, today the European Parliament voted to block further US access to SWIFT banking data. Despite intensive US lobbying the motion to block was approved with 378 votes in favor, 196 against and 31 abstentions.
Following 9-11 in 2001 the US had secretly started to analyse European banking data as part of the “War on Terror”. The US use of the SWIFT data remained undisclosed until 2006. In November of 2009 European Ministers had passed an interim agreement to continue to allow US anti-terror agencies to access the SWIFT data. Today’s veto was due to concerns over civil rights and privacy. Apparently the US has always maintained that their use of the SWIFT data was entirely legal.
Interviewed by the German magazine Spiegel (German language link), Adam Szubin, the US treasury department official in charge of the Terrorist Finance Tracking Program, said that the analysis of the SWIFT banking data had proved useful in finding and breaking up terrorist cells operating in Europe. He warned of serious consequences if Parliament were to block access.
This may well not be the end of the matter because the US is continuing to press for access and a number of prominent European ministers are in favour of a modified form of agreement. Commissioner for Home Affairs, Cecilia Malmström stated that “I remain convinced that the programme enhances the security of our citizens,” and that “Following today’s vote in the European Parliament, we will have now to reflect together with our US partners on the possible negotiation of a new agreement”.