BusinessWeek (via Spiegel Online) discusses reactions to the post-Sept. 11 arrangement to share European banking data with the US authorities. According to this article, “Europe Balks at Sharing Bank Data”, EU foreign ministers are likely to grant the request of US anti-terror officials to carry on examining Europeans’ financial transactions.
While Sweden (the current EU presidency) is set to negotiate an agreement with Washington that would allow it to scrutinize European citizens’ banking data, there is increasing criticism both from Germany and from the European Parliament. The article quotes Guido Westerwelle, head of the business-friendly Free Democratic Party (FDP), as aaying it was “totally unacceptable” that US authorities are provided with access to movements in accounts in Germany, adding “This plan must be stopped”.
The transactions in question are those processed by SWIFT (the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Transactions), which processes some 15 million transactions a day, covering over 8,000 banks and other financial institutions. Currently headquartered in Belgium, SWIFT is planning to move its servers and database —- which is currently located in the US —- to Europe, where data privacy is far more highly regulated. The US would then need permission from the EU before it could gain access to this sensitive information.
Criticism is not limited to the continuation of the surveillance alone; others object to the manner in which it is being handled, with the European Parliament being apparently bypassed.
Datonomy notes the concern which is shared by many that terrorism is a dreadful thing and that, to the extent that money-laundering and currency transfers either facilitate or evidence it, there is a strong argument in favour of an adequate form of monitoring. However, the sensitivity of the issue and the danger of data terrorism itself suggest that there should be a continuing dialogue between law-makers, the executive and the public in whose name these measures are adopted.