The EU does not rule out suspending the terrorist financial tracking programme (TFTP) with the Americans following press reports that the US intelligence agency has direct access to Swift, the global interbank transfer network database.
European Commissioner for home affairs Cecilia Malmstrom told a European Parliament civil liberties committee on Tuesday (24 September) that any suspension of the international agreement would first require an “objective and comprehensive assessment and consultations.”
When pressed by euro-deputies, she noted that if the press reports are true, then it could “constitute a breach of the agreement and a breach of the agreement can certainly lead to a suspension.”
The agreement was negotiated with Washington to track terrorists. It sets out rules on access, and data protection safeguards. A suspension would require a qualified majority vote among member states.
But Malmstrom’s statement was brushed off later on by high-ranking commission officials who refused to respond to MEP questions on whether the agreement should be suspended if allegations were proven true.
Commission home affairs director Reinhard Priebe, who co-chairs the EU-US working group on data protection, would only say that further consultations are required.
Malmstrom wrote a letter to US Treasury Under Secretary David Cohen on 12 September to ask for clarification on the allegations.
She requested in the letter to hold consultations, a formal step in case of a dispute, to determine if the US is holding up its side of the agreement.
Cohen replied a few days later but Malmstrom told the euro-deputies that she was not satisfied by the responses.
“We need more detailed information in order to credibly access reality and to be in a position to judge whether obligations on the US side under agreement have been breached,” she said.
She noted the consultation with the Americans would start soon.
Set up in 1973, Swift is a Belgian-based private company used by some 10,000 financial institutions in over 200 countries to facilitate the exchange of financial messages.
“Security is still, 40 years later, key to our mission and a core to our business,” said Blanche Petre, general counsel of Swift.
Petre said the company has found no evidence to back the allegations first made by Globo TV, a Brazilian television network.
“I can tell you today and I can assure you today that we have no evidence to suggest there have been any unauthorised access to our network or data,” she said.
She told the committee that their production environment has no Internet access and that Swift messages undergo multiple encryption layers.
Swift is overseen by the G-10 central banks tasked to ensure adequate safeguards are in place to protect customer data.