The European Parliament has voted to halt the Terrorist Finance Tracking Program (TFTP), an agreement to share data on financial transactions in the Continent with the US – after documents leaked by Edward Snowden showed the NSA was hacking the system anyway.
"Parliament stresses that any data-sharing agreement with the US must be based on a consistent legal data protection framework, offering legally-binding standards on purpose limitation, data minimisation, information, access, correction, erasure and redress," the resolution reads.
The TFTP was set up in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks to give US investigators access to data from the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT). According to prolific whistleblower Snowden, Uncle Sam's spies pwned the SWIFT system, as well as those of other financial providers including Visa, and is busy slurping up credit card records and other information on selected targets.
In the wake of these allegations, the parliament voted by 280 to 254 (with 30 abstentions) to suspend the TFTP until a "full on-site technical investigation" of the hacking claims has been carried out by Europol's Cybercrime Centre.
The resolution is non-binding, however, since only the European Commission can bind member nations to the decision. But under the terms of the TFTP "the Commission will have to act if Parliament withdraws its support for a particular agreement."
It's a measure of the growing anger in Europe over the NSA's operations that such a vote was even considered. This week's news that the agency may have hacked the phone and email of the heads of state of Germany and Mexico, as well as spying on more than 70 million phone calls in France, has many politicians up in arms over America's global surveillance.
According to the US Treasury Department, TFTP has given "thousands of valuable leads to US Government agencies" about possible terrorist activity, and since 2010 the agreement has been codified so that specific rules are laid down on data privacy and deletion. One wonders, therefore, why the NSA bothered hacking it in the first place.
Senator Dianne Feinstein, chairman of the Senate Intelligence committee and NSA cheerleader, offered one possible reason in an op-ed in USA Today on Monday. She argued that the spy agency's mass data trawls of phone records and other data was necessary because the spooks need to act quickly to catch terrorists and need "the haystack of records in order to find the terrorist needle."
Perhaps the NSA simply just doesn't trust its friends in Europe. ®