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Identity of EU Bank Data Overseer Shrouded in Secrecy

You don't know his or her name. You don't know where he or she is based. And you won't know if they decide to pass your private bank data on to U.S. authorities. The identity of the chief E.U. overseer of the controversial Swift agreement is shrouded in secrecy.

The Swift, or Terrorist Finance Tracking Program (TFTP), came into force on Aug. 1. The bilateral accord gives the U.S. access to European citizens' bank data if they believe there is a terrorist threat. The deal met with much opposition and as a measure of appeasement, the final agreement included demands from the European Parliament to allow an E.U. official to be present in the U.S. when American officials extract and review the data.

The European Commission said that an interim overseer had been appointed on Aug. 27 after a call for candidates for the permanent post of TFTP overseer was published on July 29. The Commission has decided to keep the name of the interim overseer secret "for security reasons," but did not elaborate further.

Now, a number of members of the European Parliament have raised their concerns. Sophia In 't Veld, Alexander Alvaro, Renate Weber, Sonia Alfano, Gianni Vattimo, Sarah Ludford and Louis Michel pointed out that the Commission must submit three potential candidates for the role to the European Parliament and to the Council as soon as possible. They questioned the legality of keep the overseer's identity secret.

"Can the Commission indicate the legal basis for keeping confidential the identity of the EU public official -- interim and/or permanent - overseeing the implementation of the TFTP agreement? Is there any precedent for such a decision or arrangement?" read the formal question.

Some elements of the agreement are handled by a dedicated unit within Europol, the European Police Office, but Europol is not a judicial authority and the need for an independent official is seen as essential by many civil liberties groups.

The agreement acknowledges the ambition for the E.U. to establish a system equivalent to the TFTP, which could allow for data extraction to take place on E.U. soil.

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