Counter terrorism is creating a rift in EU-US relations. Everyone is ready to fight against terrorism, but the EU is reluctant to submit citizens' personal data to US authorities’ scrutiny. The dispute over data exchange rages on.
9/11 changed the way the Western World thinks about terror. Security services either side of the Atlantic have the same questions: How could it have happened and how can it be prevented in future? There is cooperation because it is in the European interest to receive US data. As they have more capacity for this than all the EU countries put together. But that cooperation went further than Europeans realised. The US had been accessing and storing data from the Belgian financial service provider SWIFT, which handles around 80% of electronic money transfers from Europe. The arrangement was eventually legalised, but not to the EP’s satisfaction. Last month it overwhelmingly rejected an interim deal agreed by EU governments. That was an important moment, last time in Strasbourg when parliament said, 'We want more citizens' rights. We want more of a say'. The US does now seem ready to negotiate a fresh agreement on the basis of the EP’s demands. But the next argument is just around the corner. Airline passengers' data has been transferred to the US authorities systematically since 2003. Currently, that data can be stored for up to 15 years and used for purposes other than anti-terrorism. That’s against EU law. Postponing the vote has been suggested to use the time gained for more negotiation. We as elected representatives of the European citizens, we have a duty to defend EU laws, not to defend interests of other countries. Some members are not convinced that bulk data transfers really are as useful in combating terrorism as the security services claim. There’s no dispute about working together and preventing further acts of terrorism. But data protection remains a point at issue across the Atlantic.