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Europe moves to curtail US data snooping rights

Free access to financial data may end

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The European Commission has opened a public consultation on whether the US government should continue to get free access to European bank and financial data under the SWIFT agreement.

The US claims it needs access to our bank accounts in order to fight terrorism - it has had free access since shortly after 11 September 2001. But the Civil Liberties Committee of European MPs yesterday recommended the Parliament reject renewal of the treaty; MEPs only recently got powers over external treaties.

This may sound like just hot air from Brussels, but the treaty is up for a vote next Thursday. MEPs want the data protected in the same way as it would be in Europe.

Furthermore, today the European Commission adopted a decision changing the standard contract for companies that send data outside the European Union. This provides protection for European citizens by essentially guaranteeing that exported data is stored and processed according to European law.

The changes, detailed here, extend this protection to outsourced companies which might process data on behalf of US firms. In simple terms it extends data protection principles to sub-contractors used by the initial data importer, wherever that sub-contractor might be.

So when a US firm brings data out of Europe it must still follow EU law. This is now extended so that the data is passed on to an outsourcer, that company must also follow EU law.

The consultation documents are here. You have until 12 March to have your say.

The US is already making noises - Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has called Europe's foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton, AFP reports.

Ashton's appointment was heavily criticised because of her lack of experience. She might look like Olive from On the Buses, but Reg readers will be reassured to learn that she shares her living room with a full-size Dalek, Wikipedia tells us. ®

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