The U.S. is aiming to be Global Big Brother it would seem. All in the name of the Great and Holy War on Terror and never in the name of the Great Snooper Global Cop. The deal was reached without the participation of the European Union Parliament and in the opinon of many without proper safeguards. The possible misuse of this information is obvious but then no one is to question Big Brother and any attempt to stop this romp over privacy is regarded as a blow against the war on terror and a sign that Big Brother may have to work around the dem0cratic process. All for our own safety and good of course.
E.U. rejects deal to allow U.S. access to bank transfer data
By Ellen Nakashima
Washington Post Staff Writer
The European Parliament on Thursday strongly rejected a deal that would have allowed U.S. authorities continued access to data on European bank transfers, striking a blow to the Obama administration's effort to continue a controversial global terrorist finance tracking program begun under the George W. Bush administration.
The lawmakers' 378 to 196 vote is sure to spark a transatlantic tussle over what the United States has said is a significant tool in tracking and disrupting terrorist plots aimed at the U.S. and Europe.
The vote came despite intense lobbying in recent days by top U.S. officials including Vice President Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner. The parliament's president, Jerzy Buzek, said the assembly wants more safeguards for civil liberties and believes human rights have been compromised in the name of security.
The U.S. mission to the E.U. said it was "disappointed" with the E.U. move, calling it "a setback for U.S.-E.U. counterterror cooperation."
"This is a remarkably irresponsible act by the European parliament," said Stewart A. Baker, former Department of Homeland Security assistant secretary for policy. "They're creating a safe haven for terrorist finance."
The U.S. ambassador to the E.U., William E. Kennard, threatened last week to bypass the federation entirely in counterterrorism efforts if the parliament nixed the agreement.
European governments must now renegotiate the agreement with the Council of the European Union, the E.U.'s principal decision-making body. The deal would have allowed data sharing for nine months while the Americans sought a longer-term deal with the Europeans.
A source of contention for European lawmakers was that the pact was reached by U.S. officials and the council, without the parliament's involvement. It was agreed to in November and was to have taken effect Feb. 1. and expired at the end of October.
"There's a whole list of concerns that have to do with insufficient redress for E.U. citizens, no sufficient clarity about whom the data will be shared with and the fact that it is bulk data that are shared," said Sophia in 't Veld, a Dutch member of parliament opposed to the deal. "The data handed over is a huge pile, not targeted at all. So that was a huge issue."
U.S. officials say that what they actually search for and get to see is "narrowly" targeted and subject to stringent oversight.
The U.S. terrorist finance tracking program involves access to portions of vast databases of financial transaction information held by a Brussels-based consortium of banks known by its acronym SWIFT, or the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication. At issue was the way in which the U.S. gained access to, searched and used the data, and whether sufficient privacy safeguards were in place.
The program was launched in the weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The Treasury Department has been issuing administrative subpoenas every 30 days or so for the financial payment records of terrorist suspects. The searches must be "narrowly tailored" to the suspects, said Stuart Levey, undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence at the Treasury Department.
The classified program's existence was revealed by the New York Times in 2006, touching off controversy, especially in Europe. Lawmakers there were angry because they were not consulted beforehand and European privacy officials said the program violated European data protection laws.
U.S. access to the data became an open question after the European Parliament, under the Treaty of Lisbon, acquired new power to review and approve initiatives that affect internal security, counterterrorism and law enforcement.
U.S. officials wanted the parliament to use that power to approve the November agreement reached by U.S. Treasury officials and the council. It allowed the United States to conduct terrorism-related searches against millions of financial payment messaging files stored in servers near Amsterdam.
Levey touted the value of the terrorist tracking program in op-eds that ran in European papers last week. It has supplied "more than 1,500 reports and countless leads" to counterterrorism investigators in Europe and more to other countries, and has "played a key role in multiple terrorism investigations on both sides of the Atlantic," he wrote.
He said it aided European governments during investigations into the foiled 2006 al-Qaeda plot to attack transatlantic flights between Europe and the United States. The program "provided new leads, corroborated identities and revealed relationships among individuals responsible for this terrorist plot," Levey wrote. Last September, three people were convicted in Britain and sentenced to at least 30 years in prison.
An E.U. review led by French judge Jean-Louis Bruguiere concluded last month that the program was effective and contained sufficient privacy safeguards.
But the parliament's Civil Liberties Committee said in a report last week that the debate is not about SWIFT so much as about how Europe "could cooperate with the US for counterterrorism purposes" and that the agreement was potentially a step "down the slippery slope of accepting other requests for commercial data with, for example, Skype, PayPal and other companies in the information-telecommunication field . . . for law enforcement purposes."