Why the European Union should suspend SWIFT data exchange with the US

NSA headquarters (CC Greg Goebel via Flickr)

NSA headquarters (CC Greg Goebel via Flickr)

The NSA uses the SWIFT data exchange to monitor international payments, the German Spiegel reported about one month ago. According to information from whistleblower Edward Snowden, a NSA division called “Follow The Money” collects EU information from EU citizens using SWIFT and transfers it to the NSA’s own database.

SWIFT stands for Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication. The Belgian company provides banks with a standardised method for international transactions.

The EU and US agreed in 2010 that the NSA could use SWIFT’s transaction database under strict conditions in order to track terrorists. The documents provided by Snowden, however, suggest that the intelligence service made use of this on a way bigger scale than agreed.

Today, the European Parliament (EP) passed a resolution that calls for a suspension of the EU’s SWIFT data exchange with the US. The EP vote was rather close with 280 to 254 votes and 30 abstentions.

The resolution passed is non-binding, but “the Commission will have to act if Parliament withdraws its support for a particular agreement”, says the EP in the text.

However, the European Commission does not see any reason to act so far. It argues that the allegations have not been proven.

Why the European Commission should act

Following the NSA scandal, the European Commission’s position in this debate seems rather naive: NSA revelations have shown that the US intelligence service has used several ways to obtain private data from EU citizens. The SWIFT data exchange seems to be part of this strategy – a fact the NSA does not even vehemently deny.

Suspending the SWIFT data exchange as part of the Terrorist Finance Tracking Program would not necessarily weaken efforts to combat international terrorism, like some conservative politicians say. Instead, it would send a clear signal that the fight against terrorism cannot be used as an excuse to spy on EU citizens.