The European Council and European Parliament on Thursday gave the go-ahead to a new draft for the SWIFT data-sharing deal with the US. The long-disputed agreement, lobbied for by the US as way of tracking terrorist finances, is likely to pass through the European Parliament on July 7.
An earlier draft, mooted by the European Commission in mid-June, was thrown out by the EU for infringing on Europeans' privacy rights. Since then, the European Parliament has negotiated a number of concessions on privacy from Washington.
Members of parliament and commentators have expressed their confidence that the breakthrough agreement would be passed. "We have a highly desirable deal for European citizens," Claude Moraes, a member of European Parliament from Britain, told Reuters.
In 2006, the Belgium-based Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT) admitted it had been covertly cooperating with US authorities following the 9/11 terror attacks on US targets. The revelation angered European politicians and citizens and prompted SWIFT to keep all data on European transactions within Europe as of the start of this year.
Bomb Plots Detected
Between 2001 and 2009, however, US investigators had access to the names, addresses and account numbers of millions of EU citizens transferring money abroad.
High-level US officials have been pushing for a new deal, stressing that the information sharing has unearthed numerous terrorism leads, included plots which targeted Europe, such as the thwarted plan to blow up trans-Atlantic flights leaving the UK in 2006.
Adam Szubin, the US Treasury Department official who oversees efforts at tracking terrorist financing, said the latest rounds of negotiations between the EU and the US were tough, prompting the US to make a number of "difficult" and "substantial" concessions.
For the first time, the US has agreed that an independent European observer is allowed to keep tabs on how the US investigators conduct the searches in the encrypted data. Moraes dubbed the move "historic".
Europol, the EU's police co-operation agency, will also be included in the data transfer process, empowered to rule on whether to grant data requests from the US Treasury.
Still, Social Democrats in the European Parliament are still pushing for last-minute changes to the draft while the Green Party criticized the other parties for "giving in" to US demands.
Liberals and conservatives have welcomed the compromise. Alex Alvaro, a German member of European Parliament from Germany's pro-business Free Democrats, called the agreement a "breakthrough." He praised the deal for encompassing "security requirements but also respects the privacy of EU citizens." Birgit Sippel, a German MEP from the Social Democrats, also voiced support, pointing out that, "keeping track of bank transfers for terror investigations is also important for the EU."