The European Parliament demanded a halt to bank-data transfers to U.S. counter-terrorism investigators because of possible violations of privacy, the latest international outcry over alleged American spying.
The assembly urged the European Commission to suspend a trans-Atlantic agreement on data provision because of concerns that U.S. authorities had unauthorized access to the financial information covered by the deal. Under the program, the European Union lets the U.S. Treasury Department view records from the Swift money-transfer system.
"The U.S. appears to be in clear breach of that agreement following recent revelations about the extent of spying on friendly allies and innocent civilians," said Sophie in 't Veld, a Dutch member who helped steer the call for suspension through the 28-nation EU Parliament today in Strasbourg, France. The appeal is not binding on the commission, the EU's executive arm.
Trans-Atlantic cooperation to fight terrorism has become embroiled in the diplomatic fallout over reports of snooping by the U.S. National Security Agency based on documents disclosed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. He has been granted asylum by Russia while facing espionage charges in the U.S.
Two days ago, the French government expressed outrage at a report in Le Monde that the NSA eavesdropped on millions of phone calls inside France and demanded that the U.S. cease the spying. The Foreign Ministry in Paris summoned the U.S. ambassador after the newspaper said the U.S. had intercepted and recorded 70.3 million bits of "telecommunications data" from Dec. 10, 2012, to Jan. 8, 2013.
Three days ago, the Mexican government condemned the NSA's alleged hacking in 2010 of the e-mail account of then-President Felipe Calderon, saying such actions are unacceptable and violate international law. The Mexican Foreign Ministry was responding to a report by Der Spiegel in Germany.
Such news reports have also stirred U.S. tensions with countries including Germany and Brazil. Allegations of NSA spying against Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff prompted her last month to call off a state visit to Washington.
"It is increasingly evident that the NSA data-tracking programs go far beyond the fight against terrorism," said In 't Veld, who belongs to the EU Parliament's pro-business Liberal group.
Privacy has traditionally been a sensitive matter in the Parliament. In February 2010, ignoring the appeals of European governments and the U.S. administration, the assembly rejected a version of the data-transfer accord after saying it lacked adequate protection of personal information. Five months later, the Parliament endorsed a revised agreement after winning extra provisions to protect privacy.
The EU-wide accord is the U.S. government's preferred tool for collecting European data under the Terrorist Finance Tracking Program created after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, avoiding country-by-country requests and making the transfers less politically controversial.
Swift, with headquarters in Belgium, relays money-transfer orders among more than 10,000 banks and other financial institutions in over 200 countries and territories.