Against the wishes of the Council, the Parliament forced the renegotiation of the SWIFT agreement with the US, which resulted in better data protection for EU citizens.
Since 9/11, Americans have stepped up their worldwide monitoring of financial transactions and airline passenger data for counter-terrorism purposes. While Europeans recognise the usefulness of anti-terrorism programmes and the unique role played by the US, they also want to protect their privacy and obtain a similar right of redress as Americans.
2010 was a landmark year in this regard. On 11 February, the European Parliament rejected an agreement previously approved by the European Council that gave the US government broad rights of access to the financial transactions performed through SWIFT, a private cooperative society based in Belgium. This decision suspended the availability of data, opening a six-month “security gap” and setting off a frenzy of lobbying by the US government (including presidential attention and a visit by Vice President Joe Biden to the European Parliament) until a second deal was negotiated and approved by the Parliament. While it did not completely satisfy some, this second deal brought tangible improvements, including conditions and limits on the availability of SWIFT data, the screening of American demands by Europol, and monitoring by a European official in Washington. The European Parliament used the SWIFT case not just to meet privacy concerns but also to assert its new powers under the Lisbon Treaty – and get recognition in Washington. Many worried about antagonising a major ally and suspending a useful anti-terrorism programme at a time when Europeans have neither the unity nor the capacity to track terrorism financing themselves. But the renegotiation of the deal still brought concrete improvements.
The 2010 record is more mixed on the transfer of airline passenger data (PNR): Americans balked at the renegotiation of the 2007 deal before finally agreeing at the end of 2010. But they continued to show no enthusiasm for discussing an umbrella agreement on data protection.