US access to EU Swift bank data agreed

After EU privacy laws denied American security services access to European bank information, the parties have signed the Swift agreement to turn the taps back on

The US and European Union have signed an agreement giving American government agencies access to all bank transactions within Europe, in the name of anti-terrorism intelligence.

The Swift agreement, named after the Belgian-based Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication that runs the eponymous intra-bank network, was accepted by the EU on Monday. It allows American collection of data within Europe and the transfer of information about suspicious transactions to the US. An EU official based in the US will maintain oversight for privacy and against misuse.

The agreement follows an earlier interim agreement to give the US data on all transactions, which was signed last November ahead of changes to the Swift architecture. Originally, Swift had two datacentres — one in the US and one in the EU — which mirrored all bank transactions. From 1 January, 2010, a third datacentre was used in Switzerland to maintain redundancy without having EU data in the US, which would have been against European privacy law.

The interim agreement was subsequently opposed by groups within the EU parliament, including the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D), who forced a parliamentary rejection of the agreement in February. The S&D amendments were then incorporated.

"During the last months the European Parliament was strong enough to say no to a 'security without safeguards' deal," said Martin Shulz, S&D leader, in a statement. "It is the duty of the EU and the US to cooperate in protecting citizens from terrorism, but citizens have also the right to be protected against excessive state intrusion into their lives and potential mistakes."

A further vote in the EU parliament in early July is needed to ratify and enable the agreement.