August 16, 2022

Europe Tries to Curb U.S. Role in Tracking Terrorists’ Funds

BRUSSELS — The European Commission on Wednesday presented proposals for tracking the finances of terrorists in Europe that are aimed at ending the primary role of the United States in those efforts.

The European Union needed “to find a European solution for extracting the requested data on European soil,” said Cecilia Malmström, the E.U. commissioner for home affairs.

Many E.U. lawmakers have long objected to an existing program that sends information on financial transactions in bulk to the United States where it is sifted for evidence of terror plots.

That program was established by the administration of George W. Bush in the wake of the attacks on the United States on Sept. 11, 2001. The program became a symbol of differences between the United States and the European Union over how to balance personal privacy guarantees with concerns on national and international security.

Ms. Malmström’s proposals could help to quell criticisms that financial tracking jeopardizes European standards of privacy by establishing a parallel system that would share tips with the United States and other powers.

Any European system “would need to fully respect fundamental rights, and in particular ensure a high level of data protection,” said Ms. Malmström.

A key objective would be “limiting the amount of personal data transferred to the U.S.,” according to a statement by Ms. Malmström’s department.

The commission already has discussed plans to create a so-called European Terrorist Finance Tracking System with the American authorities who have participated in expert meetings on the initiative.

But a European system still could cost nearly 50 million euros to implement and about 11 million euros in annual running costs. Depending on how a European system was designed, it also could require unprecedented cooperation among the security services of fractious E.U. member states, raising questions about feasibility.

The current program allows American agencies to get access to European banking data held by a cooperative — the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, or Swift — which is responsible for routing trillions of dollars daily among banks, brokerage houses, stock exchanges and other institutions.

But members of the European Parliament and other campaigners have complained for years that the program undermines privacy because it requires large batches of information to be sent to the United States for analysis and storage there.

Frustration among members of the Parliament welled up in February 2010, when they vetoed a previous accord and deprived the United States of access to the information.

The European Commission, the E.U. executive, then led negotiations with the United States to win assurances that any requests for information would be evaluated by the European police agency, Europol.

The European Parliament approved a revised agreement in July 2010.

But some lawmakers who approved that agreement have criticized Europol for too readily approving American requests for large amounts of data, and they have suggested they could withdraw their support again in the future.

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