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EU backs renewal of anti-terror bank scrutiny deal

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The EU is in talks to renew an agreement allowing US authorities to scrutinise European banking transactions as part of US anti-terrorism efforts.

Existing arrangements dating from 2007 - which existed in much the same form but in secret before then - allow US anti-terror investigators to access European bank transfer transaction data maintained by Swift (Society of Worldwide Inter bank Financial Telecommunications) under controlled circumstances. Swift is due to move its primary internet servers from the US to a data centre in the Netherlands later this year, necessitating changes in a gentlemen's agreement that has existed since the 9/11 terrorism attack.

US security agencies have had access to Swift data under the Terrorist Finance Tracking Programme (TFTP) since 2001, but the programme only became public knowledge in June 2006, after the scheme was revealed in a New York Times story. The US Treasury made promises to the EU regarding the controls and safeguards to accompany the TFTP scheme in June 2007.

The US Treasury has the right to serve "administrative subpoenas" on SWIFT for the financial records of suspected individuals or organisations. The scheme is restricted exclusively to anti-terrorism investigations, according to the agreement at least.

An EU review carried out by Judge Jean-Louis Bruguière concluded in February 2009 that subpoenaed SWIFT message data is "adequately protected" and that the programme is justified in the fight against the financing of terrorism.

However, German politicians have expressed concerns about the scope of US scrutiny of international bank records and transactions, Der Spiegel reports.

EU Justice Commissioner Jacques Barrot responded on Monday by arguing it would be "extremely dangerous" to curtail the surveillance of banking transactions while stressing that US trench coats would not be given a blank cheque.

"The US authorities would continue to temporarily access the relevant data only after legal verification and under strict judicial control," he said, the BBC reports.

A spokesperson for SWIFT was unable to immediately provide El Reg with a timescale for re-negotiation of the TFTP arrangements or say when its main servers will be relocated to Europe. SWIFT, which is based in Belgium and co-operatively owned by 8,000 banks, handles 15 million bank transfers a day. ®

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