EU votes for privacy vet of Swift and PNR

The European Parliament has voted to impose EU-grade data protection conditions on the Swift and PNR data transfer agreements being negotiated with the US.

MEPs had challenged both agreements on the basis that they infringed European privacy laws. They voted yesterday to withhold their approval of the Passenger Name Records (PNR) system, by which the EU sends personal data about air travellers to US border agents.

They refused to countenance any PNR agreements with with other countries until a privacy impact assessment could determine whether transfers breached citizen's rights to data protection.

They insisted the PNR agreements would have to be renegotiated to bring them in line with EU standards.

The Parliament also listed principles by which it will judge the Terrorist Finance Tracking Programme, under which US Treasury agents have gained access to interbank money transfers made within and with the EU.

The European Commission was forced to start renegotiating the TFTP agreement after Swift, the Belgium-based interbank transaction processor, completed in January the relocation of all non-transatlantic EU financial records from the US to a new data centre in Switzerland. Swift relocated the data in response to the US subpoenas on EU records held in its US data centre, forcing the US to seek EU permission to access the records.

MEPs resolved yesterday that they would not approve the Swift agreement unless it held US investigators to stricter terms of necessity and proportionality in their queries on EU banking data. They were concerned that the agreement should set out specific conditions on what queries the US could make on EU financial records.

The agreement, negotiated by the European Commission, had given the US discretion over what EU data was transferred, searched and stored.

MEPs insisted that a delegation of the European Data Protection Supervisor should monitor US agents' accesses of EU data. They also agreed a proposal for an EU TFTP programme, and that the US and EU should consider establishing a joint anti-terror finance body.

The European Commission aims for its ongoing negotiations with the US to produce an agreement before the summer, when it must await the Parliament's approval.

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