The European Parliament on Thursday strongly rejected a deal that would have allowed U.S. authorities access to European bank transfers, allegedly to track funds supporting terror groups.
EU lawmakers in Strasbourg, France voted 378-196 against the deal with 31 abstentions.
The parliament's president, Jerzy Buzek, said the assembly wants more safeguards for civil liberties and believes human rights has been compromised in the name of security.
The rejection forces European governments to renegotiate the deal with the parliament, which would allow data sharing for nine months while the EU seeks a longer-term deal with the U.S.
The EU wants such a deal to eventually allow European authorities see U.S. banking information.
Lawmakers have been very critical of EU government moves to share information with the United States with few conditions, warning that this could breach European privacy rules.
EU governments rushed through an interim deal in November, a day before a new treaty came into force that would require them to consult the parliament. Following an outcry, they agreed to let the EU parliament have a say in the matter.
The deal would have formalized a secret program launched after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks that skirted Europe's strict privacy rules. It did that by transferring millions of pieces of personal information from the U.S. offices of the bank transfer company SWIFT to American authorities.
SWIFT had no immediate reaction to the vote but said it would issue a statement shortly.
Since news of the U.S. anti-terror program broke in 2006 — angering European legislators — American authorities have promised that the information it collects from the databases is properly protected and used only in anti-terror probes. They said "data mining" — or open-ended searching — was strictly forbidden.
The Americans have said the data have helped provide new leads, corroborate identities and uncover relationships between suspects in an al-Qaida-directed plot to blow up trans-Atlantic airplane flights in 2006. They also said it helped to identify financial transactions made by an al-Qaida terrorist suspect involved in planning a possible aircraft attack earlier this year.
Overall, the program has generated some 1,450 tip-offs to European governments and 800 to other states — 100 of them from January to September this year, officials said.
SWIFT, the global electronic payments consortium used by banks worldwide, will have moved its data stores from the United States to Switzerland by the end of this year, which means the U.S. needs an international agreement to keep the data flow going.
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