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EU Refuses to Reveal Bank Data Transfers to US

The European Commission and Europol have once again refused to reveal any information about how the Terrorist Finance Tracking Agreement between the European Union and the U.S. is working six months after it came into force.

The so-called 'Swift' accord, which allows the bulk transfer of European citizens' financial data to the U.S. authorities, came into force on Aug. 1 last year. In December, German representatives revealed that questions from the German data protection commissioner about how many requests the U.S. has made for data and how many, if any, have been approved, were not answered.

Europol said that questions could only be answered by the Commission. But the Commission said that 'neither the Commission nor Europol nor the member states have the power to bindingly interpret the agreement." Europol further indicated that such sensitive information is in any case top secret. The German delegation to the Council of Europe said that repeatedly sidestepping the questions is not helpful and will lead to growing public mistrust.

"If Europol are saying that the information requested is classified as "top secret" this is an abuse of the E.U.'s classified information system. The data requested is aggregated containing no personal or operational information. The agreement was negotiated in secret now it seems it is to be implemented in secret -- out of sight of governments, parliaments and people. This sets a very dangerous precedent for future agreements with the U.S.," said Tony Bunyan, director of civil liberties group, Statewatch.

One of the chief concerns about the five-year agreement when it was negotiated was protection of the data, which includes the names of bank account holders and their account numbers. Data can only be transferred with the approval of Europol, on a case-by-case basis and in the smallest possible quantities.

At the time, Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmström said that European citizens have been given a two-fold guarantee to "complete transparency as far as access and use of data are concerned; and, second, access to appropriate tools and redress procedures to ensure that privacy is protected."

Follow Jennifer on Twitter at @BrusselsGeek or email tips and comments to jennifer_baker@idg.com.

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