The European Parliament called today (23 October) for the suspension of a counter-terrorism agreement with the US following reports that US intelligence services had breached the agreement's privacy safeguards.
The vote in plenary is non-binding. It calls on the European Commission to initiate the process of suspending the agreement, which gives US counter-terrorism officials access to global bank transfer data carried by the SWIFT messaging network.
Socialists, Liberals, Greens and the far left supported the suspension, while most centre-right MEPs – the single largest group in the Parliament – voted against it.
The Parliament's resolution is significant primarily as a political signal. Any Commission proposal to suspend the Swift agreement would require the backing of a weighted majority of member states to take effect, which is a highly unlikely outcome.
The agreement in its current form was approved by MEPs in 2010 after they had tightened safeguards to protect users' privacy. However, reports over the summer based on documents provided by Edward Snowden, a US whistle-blower, suggested that the National Security Agency, in charge of intercepting communications, had unimpeded access to all Swift transactions, completely
circumventing the safeguards.
Cecilia Malmström, the European commissioner for home affairs, said earlier this autumn that she was unhappy with the response she received from US counterparts on the allegations and that
any systematic circumvention of the safeguards would constitute a serious breach of the agreement.
Sophie in ' t Veld, a Dutch Liberal and one of the drafters of the resolution, said that suspending the Swift agreement was “the least we can do”. She slammed the member states for failing to investigate the allegations.
Marc Tarabella, the head of the French Socialists in Parliament, said that the NSA's spying on Swift transfers demonstrated that the US considered all Europeans to be terrorists whose civil liberties could be trampled on.
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