MEPs raise possibility of suspending EU/US TFTP programme

Brussels, 24/09/2013. The European Parliament’s Civil Liberties committee (LIBE) has raised the possibility of suspending or terminating the EU/US Terrorist Finance Tracking Programme (TFTP) during today’s discussion on the NSA’s alleged tapping of SWIFT’s international bank-transfer data.

At the committee’s third hearing on US and EU government surveillance activities, Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmström told MEPs that she had not yet received satisfactory replies from the US authorities concerning the allegations. She said she had written to US Treasury Under-Secretary David Cohen on 12 September asking for clarification of press allegations that the NSA has been tapping into personal financial data from SWIFT’s international bank-transfer database.

“I am not satisfied with the answers I got so far,” she told MEPs. “We need more information and clarity.” She added that the Commission had requested formal consultations with the US under Article 19 of the TFTP agreement.

Sophie in’ t Veld (ALDE, NL) agreed that the answers from the US were not sufficient. “For me the [TFTP] agreement is effectively dead … it is null and void,” she said, adding, “Approving an international agreement is like signing a blank check …. the only reason I had to support it no longer exists.”

Other MEPs raised the possibility of suspending or terminating the TFTP agreement. “Would you agree to suspend the agreement given the unclear answers from the US?” asked the committee rapporteur for the inquiry, Claude Moraes (S&D, UK). Parliament’s rapporteur for the TFTP deal, Alexander Alvaro (ALDE, DE), said that he would be in favour of suspension as a “minimum option”.

MEP Axel Voss queried whether it is possible to actually withdraw from the deal. Commissioner Malmstrom replied that, “If media reports are true this constitutes a breach of the agreement, and a breach of the agreement can lead to suspension.” However, she said, if after analysing all the information the Commission deemed it necessary to propose a suspension, “this should be decided by qualified majority in the Council.”

Blanche Petre, General Counsel of SWIFT, said in response to questions from MEPs on the alleged tapping that, “We have no reason to believe that there has been an unauthorised access to our data.”