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US, EU reach deal to access suspected terrorists' financial information

The EU agreed Monday to give the US access to bank data in order to track the finances of suspected terrorists. Under the agreement, the US can use the Terrorist Finance Tracking Program [fact sheet] to access information from the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT) [official website; bylaws], an interbank money transfer system, to track the finances of suspected terrorists. To protect privacy concerns, Europol [official website] will check the validity of each US request, and an EU representative will monitor the use of EU citizens' banking data by US authorities. The agreement still needs to be approved by the European parliament, but EU Commissioner for Home Affairs Ceilia Malmstrom [official website] indicated that the parliament will likely support the agreement [AFP report]. In February, the parliament voted down [press release] a version of the agreement that did not include EU oversight.

The EU and US have struggled to balance privacy concerns with anti-terrorism efforts in the past. In 2006, an EU panel said that SWIFT broke privacy laws [JURIST report] by sharing data with the US. Revelation of the once-secret program [NYT report; JURIST report], prompted sharp criticism from the Bush administration, which defended the initiative. The chairman of the US House Homeland Security Committee [official website] later encouraged the administration to press criminal charges [JURIST report] against the media for publicizing the program, which allowed the CIA [official website] to monitor international financial transactions processed by SWIFT.

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