Austria, Germany blocking EU-US data deal

28th November 2009, Comments 0 comments

EU interior ministers meeting in Brussels on Monday -- their last official talks this year -- hope to endorse an interim agreement permitting US justice authorities to data from the interbank transfer service SWIFT.

Brussels -- Austria and Germany were on Friday still blocking a planned accord allowing the United States to use data about European citizens in anti-terror investigations as a November 30 deadline closes in.

EU interior ministers meeting in Brussels on Monday -- their last official talks this year -- hope to endorse an interim agreement permitting US justice authorities to data from the interbank transfer service SWIFT.

If Austria and Germany continue to hold out, "the Americans will no longer have access to European data" from the SWIFT network from the end of the year, an EU diplomat said.

"We'll have a clearer idea over the weekend," another EU official said.

Members of the European parliament called Thursday for the ministers to delay their decision for at least 24 hours until the new reforming Lisbon Treaty enters force, which gives the assembly more say in justice affairs.

However Washington fears that a security vacuum could be created without a new agreement, with SWIFT set to change the way it operates by the end of the year, depriving US authorities of potentially vital data.

The primary concern is that personal information, possibly including data from electronic bank payments, could be transferred to US authorities and handed on to other governments.

The Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT), based near Brussels, deals with trillions of dollars in global transactions daily between nearly 8,000 financial institutions in 200-plus countries.

In a major move, SWIFT plans by the end of the year to set up a mirror site exchange of information between a database in the Netherlands and Switzerland. A separate system will operate between Switzerland and the United States.

The change could leave the United States reliant on EU nations and laws for access to the information.

So the EU has been trying to draw up a temporary agreement and had wanted it finalised by November 30, but Germany and Austria still have reservations.

That interim agreement was originally meant to be for one year, but under the current compromise that would be reduced to nine months, officials say. Germany is insisting that it only last for six months.

In 2006, SWIFT admitted that it had provided US authorities with some personal data in the wake of the September 11 attacks in 2001 for the purpose of fighting extremists but insisted it had done its utmost to protect privacy.

AFP/Expatica

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