By Jonathan Abrams, NSJ Staff Editor –
There is hope that a tool for tracking terrorists’ finances that was effectively eliminated by the European Parliament in February will come back online this summer.
The Terrorist Finance Tracking Program (TFTP) was started after the September 11th attacks as a way to identify, track, and pursue suspected terrorists and their finances. As one part of the program, the U.S. government would subpoena banking records from the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT), a consortium of banks that serves as the middle man for billions of transactions each year. Although SWIFT is a Belgian company, the U.S. government was able to obtain SWIFT’s records because many of its databases were housed in the United States. In January, though, SWIFT moved most of those files to the Netherlands, forcing the United States to get European permission to continue this part of the program.
In February, despite intense lobbying from American and European officials, the European Parliament rejected an interim agreement to keep the program running while a longer-term agreement could be reached. The rejection, by a vote of 378-196, reflected the Parliament’s dissatisfaction with the level of data protection as well as anger over being left out of negotiations.
The European Commission has put forward a new proposal that seeks to address the Parliament’s concerns. The proposal includes greater oversight, including requirements that the Commission regularly report to the Parliament concerning the amount of information processed and used for counter-terrorism purposes; approval by a judicial authority for transfers of data; absolute prohibition on transfers of bulk data to third countries; and a right of the European Union to terminate the agreement in the event of a breach of the safeguards. (More information can be found here.)
An alternative discussed by some European officials is for the Commission to develop its own terrorist finance tracking system. But such a system would be expensive and require E.U. member states to delegate powers to oversee the effort, an unlikely proposition in an area where member states still zealously protect their sovereignty.
Once the proposal is approved by member states, the Commission will lead the negotiations with the U.S. government. The final agreement will then require the approval of the national governments and the European Parliament. E.U. Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said that “we have good hopes that we might be able to finalize this by summer.” The U.S. Mission to the European Union stated that the parties should “quickly move forward with constructive negotiations toward a long-term agreement.”