European politicians on Tuesday demanded that a broad data-sharing agreement between the U.S. and the European Union be suspended, following allegations that the U.S. National Security Agency illegally tapped banking data.
The Terrorist Finance Tracking Program (TFTP) allows the U.S. Treasury to access some data stored in Europe by Swift, the international banking transfer company. But allegations that the NSA accessed this data without going through legal channels has led some members of the European Parliament (MEPs) to declare the agreement defunct.
None of those present at the Civil Liberties Committee's Tuesday hearing on U.S. and E.U. countries' surveillance plans had evidence that the NSA has actually breached Swift. The latest allegations are based on documents leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden that indicate the NSA spied on Swift. According to the documents, Swift is included in an NSA training manual for new agents on how to target private computer networks.
Dutch MEP Sophie in't Veld told the hearing that she considered the agreement "effectively dead."
"We have no evidence that they have actually been doing this, but they don't deny it either. So in a way it is irrelevant whether they have used the opportunity so far, because they will continue to reserve that right in the future," she said, calling for the accord to be terminated.
Fellow MEPs Claude Moraes and Alexander Alvaro also called for suspension as a "minimum option."
Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmström said that she had requested formal consultations with the U.S. under Article 19 of the TFTP agreement -- a first step toward suspension of the deal.
She said she had written to U.S. Treasury Under-Secretary David Cohen on Sept. 12 to ask for the "how, what and when" on the spying allegations, but that she was not satisfied with the responses.
"The TFTP agreement with the U.S. was negotiated precisely to avoid that personal data of EU citizens are exposed without legal guarantees or safeguards," Malmström pointed out. "We have made that very clear, that if those allegations are true, they constitute a breach of the agreement and the breach of the agreement can certainly lead to a suspension."
There were however some voices of dissent. "At this point we cannot simply withdraw from the deal," said German MEP Axel Voss.
"We have no information that would indicate that the NSA has additional direct access to the data operated by Swift," said Rob Wainwright, director of the E.U.'s police agency, Europol. However, he added that "because of the nature of the way in which we work, it's unlikely that Europol would have this information anyhow."
Likewise, Swift's general counsel Blanche Petre said there was no evidence to suggest that there has been any unauthorized access to the data, but added she would be "extremely concerned" if this proved to be the case. "Whenever we believe there is any risk to security of our services we will investigate and take whatever actions we think appropriate to mitigate the risk," she added.
A third annual review of the TFTP program took place last month, and results have not yet been published. However the second review sparked anger among MEPs last year when it revealed that U.S. requests for European banking data were too vague to assess whether they meet E.U. data standards. But Europol still approved them.
The TFTP agreement was controversial from the start with Parliament only reluctantly agreeing to it in 2010. The European Parliament inquiry is due to present its report on surveillance by the end of this year