EU/US SWIFT agreement not respecting data protection safeguards

Europol’s supervisory body has just published a report on the implementation of the EU/US TFTP agreement (Terrorism Finance Tracking Programme), the so-called SWIFT agreement. The conclusions by the Joint Supervisory Board (overseeing data protection issues) of Europol, according to the ALDE group within the European Parliament, raise serious concerns about compliance with EU data protection standards.

Europol appears, state ALDE, to be just rubberstamping requests for the transfer of bulk data, without any kind of scrutiny or oversight. Authorisation of data transfer seems to be given on the basis of oral, unrecorded information, and all relevant documents have been classified top secret.

Alexander Alvaro (FDP, Germany), Parliament’s rapporteur on the TFTP Agreement, said: “The Commission is due to publish its evaluation of the TFTP shortly on 17th March. It must take account of this disregard for art.4 of the Agreement and EU data protection rules. All relevant documents must be declassified. The Commission’s report must underline Europol’s duty, as an EU agency, to comply fully with EU legislation. The European Data Protection Supervisor should also be invited to submit a report on the functioning of TFTP.”

“Early assessment of the functioning of TFTP highlights that the European Commission’s proposals for filtering data on European soil are needed as soon as possible. Europe must stop passing large amounts of raw data to the United States to process by the end of 2012”.

Sophie In’t Veld (D66, The Netherlands), vice-president of the committee on Civil liberties, Justice and Home affairs, said: “This report should send alarm bells ringing in Brussels. It would seem Europol has not been respecting the agreed data protection safeguards which we insisted upon as a condition for this agreement to go ahead. We need clarification on how these data transfers are being processed. Europol appears to be authorizing massive data transfers on the basis of unacceptably vague requests and unrecorded oral information”.

“ALDE endorsed the agreement with some reluctance, seeking to strike a balance between data privacy and the need to track down sources of terrorist financing. But our support for this and other, forthcoming agreements (such as on PNR) clearly rely on the trustworthiness of our partners. The report on Europol’s implementation of the TFTP agreement does not inspire much confidence. We will need stronger assurances that protection of personal data of European citizens is not a mere box ticking exercise, but a genuine mission of all EU bodies”.

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