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EU wants US to share bank data in terrorist deals

The European Union said on Wednesday that it will ask the United States to pass on information about US bank transfers if the EU sets up a system of tracking suspected terrorists' finances.

world Updated: Mar 25, 2010 00:49 IST

The European Union said on Wednesday that it will ask the United States to pass on information about US bank transfers if the EU sets up a system of tracking suspected terrorists' finances.

The new measure would be part of a deal allowing the US to check European data for terrorist leads. It would require the US to pass to European investigators information on all transfers into or out of US bank accounts. The European investigators could then sift the information for leads considered valuable in terrorism investigations.

The EU and the US are currently negotiating to restart a data-sharing program that the United States says provides an important source of information for anti-terror investigators in the US and Europe.

The EU's executive body was forced to redraft the deal after the European Parliament rejected it last month, saying they wanted more safeguards for civil liberties over fears that human rights have been compromised in the name of security.

Lawmakers will have to vote before the summer on a new draft text proposed by the European Commission on Wednesday that negotiators said would take parliament's concerns into account. EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding promised that the deal could eventually require American banking data to be passed to European governments, saying it would "provide US reciprocity should the EU set up its own terrorist financing tracking program." There are no such plans. Officials say European governments have outsourced such investigations to the U.S because they do not currently have the same data-sifting capability. The US program has passed European nations some 1,450 tips that it generated. American officials say the data-sharing has helped them provide new leads, corroborate identities and uncover relationships between suspects in an al-Qaida-directed plot to blow up trans-Atlantic airplane flights in 2006.

They also said it helped to identify financial transactions made by an al-Qaida terrorist suspect involved in planning a possible aircraft attack earlier this year.

The EU plans to add new data protection guarantees to the deal including a total ban on transferring bulk data _ but not leads _ to other countries. It also wants data to be held for no longer than five years _ and says it wants to terminate data sharing if the US doesn't keep to the data privacy restrictions.

The deal would formalize a secret program launched after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks that skirted Europe's strict privacy rules. It did that by transferring millions of pieces of personal information from the US offices of the bank transfer company SWIFT to American authorities.

Since news of the US anti-terror program broke in 2006 _ angering European legislators _ American authorities have promised that the information it collects from the databases is properly protected and used only in anti-terror probes.