Europe to share banking data for US terror probes

Europe to share banking data for US terror probes Brussels: Europe agreed on Thursday to allow the United States to tap into banking data for terrorism investigations after securing safeguards to protect the privacy of European citizens.

The United States will again have access to the banking information from August 1 after European MPs voted 484-109 in favour of a new five-year deal that was signed by Brussels and Washington last week.

The new agreement is a victory for the parliament, which used powers it gained under the European Union's Lisbon Treaty to block an initial deal in February, barring Washington from seeing the bank data since then.

European home affairs commissioner Cecilia Maelstrom, who negotiated the new deal, said a lack of agreement "could have had negative repercussions for EU-US cooperation in the security area and more broadly."

Michael Dodman, the charge d'affaires of the US mission to the EU, said last week that the lack of an agreement had created a "security gap" and that the programme was "very important to the security of the US and Europe."

European lawmakers dropped their opposition to the programme after the EU and the US agreed on a set of measures to prevent intrusions into the privacy of Europeans.

"The agreement caters for both security and privacy concerns," said Alexander Alvaro, a German Liberal European lawmaker.

"It will ensure that terrorist financing can be traced back to its sources but it will not affect day-to-day bank transfers of EU citizens," he said.

The system was introduced in the wake of the attacks of September 11, 2001 in the United States to help tackle the financing of terrorism.

The Terrorist Finance Tracking Programme allowed US access to information from the interbank money transfer system SWIFT, which is based in Brussels.

European lawmakers' main concern was that personal information, including data from electronic bank payments, would be used by US authorities, held for too long and handed on to other governments.

US Vice President Joe Biden sought to ease European concerns during a trip to Europe in May, saying "Europeans and Americans alike have valued greatly the privacy of our citizens."

Under the new deal, Europol, the European police organisation, will check the validity of US requests.

The United States also agreed to allow the presence of a EU official in Washington who will be able to monitor the use of banking data of EU citizens by US authorities.