European Union (EU) foreign ministers agreed on Monday to start negotiations with the United States on banking data sharing in terrorism investigations.
The negotiations are expected to give U.S. anti-terror investigators access to European banking information run by financial services provider SWIFT, or the Society of Worldwide Inter bank Financial Telecommunications.
The European Commission had emphasized that EU foreign ministers would only approve the start of negotiations with the United States on the sharing of banking data, adding any agreement reached would be limited to one year and high level of data protection would be assured.
In fact, the United States has already had access to European banking information for years since the terrorist attacks of Sept.11, 2001, and the proposed banking data transfer agreement will expand the sharing.
However, human rights groups and some EU lawmakers decried the move as possible infringement of EU citizens' privacy.
Jacques Barrot, vice president of the European Commission responsible for justice, freedom and security, said that it is no question of giving the U.S. a blank check, adding he is in favor of a temporary and limited agreement to let the U.S. authorities continue to access to those data.
"Such an agreement would reinforce the safeguards for the EU citizens concerning the access and the use of these data, since its terms will be inspired by EU legislation on data privacy and on law enforcement activities under judicial control," Barrot said.
"The agreement could also contain new guarantees on limits of the access, on the use and retention of the data and on the sharing of the evaluations of the data," he added.