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Biden vows to ease EU concerns over bank data anti-terror deal

US Vice President Joe Biden said Saturday the United States is working to “assuage any concerns” in Europe over a bank data exchange scheme aimed at boosting anti-terrorism efforts.

“We fully appreciate the concerns some Europeans have raised about privacy,” said Biden after talks with Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, whose nation currently holds the rotating EU presidency.

“Europeans and Americans alike have valued greatly the privacy of our citizens. Were we to make comprises on our civil liberties, that would be an admision that the terrorists have already succeeded.”

“We are working with our Spanish friends and all of the EU now to assuage any concerns about the programme. We are absolutely confident we will address these concerns and preserve the programme that is vital to the security of our citizens.”

In February, European Union lawmakers blocked a key agreement of the Terrorist Finance Tracking Programme that allowed US access to information from the interbank money transfer system SWIFT to track suspect finances.

All 27 EU member states had endorsed the deal, and they and the United States warned that the negotiating breakdown could spark a security gap.

The Euro MPs’ main concern was that personal information, including data from electronic bank payments, would be used by US authorities, held for too long and handed on to other governments.

Biden, on the highest-level visit to Spain by a member of the Obama administration, said the United States “appreciates the Spanish government’s support withing the EU for the TFTP.”

“You have been a great ally and you understand as we do the vital importance of that programme,” which he said had “provided critical leads to counter-terrorism investigations on both sides of the Atlantic and disrupted plots and ultimately saved lives.”

The old SWIFT interbank data system, suspended this year, transmitted information on transactions from 8,000 institutions worldwide.

The system was introduced in the wake of the 9/11 attacks in the United States in 2001, to help tackle the financing of terrorism.