The EU Parliament [official website] on Thursday approved the adoption of an agreement [text, PDF; press release] giving the US access to bank data in order to track the finances of suspected terrorists. Under the agreement, the US can use the Terrorist Finance Tracking Program (TFTP) [fact sheet] to access information from the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT) [official website; bylaws], an interbank money transfer system, to track the finances of suspected terrorists. The Parliament rejected the original form of the agreement in March, but reconsidered the final version [JURIST report] after additional privacy protections were put in place. Under the finalized version of the agreement, Europol [official website] will protect privacy concerns by checking the validity of each US request, and an EU representative will monitor the use of EU citizens' banking data by US authorities. US President Barack Obama [official website] praised the adoption of the agreement [press release] and cited the importance of the TFTP in terrorism investigations, stating:
The TFTP has provided critical investigative leads -- more than 1,550 to EU Member States -- since its creation after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. These leads have aided countries around the world in preventing or investigating many of the past decade's most visible and violent terrorist attacks and attempted attacks, including Bali (2002), Madrid (2004), London (2005), the liquids bomb plot against transatlantic aircraft (2006), New York's John F. Kennedy airport (2007), Germany (2007), Mumbai (2008), and Jakarta (2009).The agreement is scheduled to enter into force on August 1, 2010, and will be valid for five years. The agreement is then renewable on a yearly basis.
The EU and US have struggled to balance privacy concerns with anti-terrorism efforts in the past. In 2006, an EU panel said that SWIFT broke privacy laws [JURIST report] by sharing data with the US. Revelation of the once-secret program [NYT report; JURIST report], prompted sharp criticism from the Bush administration, which defended the initiative. The chairman of the US House Homeland Security Committee [official website] later encouraged the administration to press criminal charges [JURIST report] against the media for publicizing the program, which allowed the CIA [official website] to monitor international financial transactions processed by SWIFT.