US anti-terrorism investigators have won the right to scrutinise the private bank details of British and other EU citizens after a crucial vote in the European parliament yesterday.
The vote in favour of giving CIA agents access to a giant financial database follows a deal struck between US and EU negotiators.
Under the new arrangements, the EU police agency Europol will assess whether specific data requests are necessary for the fight against terrorism before the data is sent to the US, and the EU Commission will appoint its own officials to monitor the US investigators' actions. There is also a requirement that bulk data can never be sent to third countries. The measures were passed by 484 MEPs in favour and 109 against.
Last night the White House welcomed its victory. In a statement, the Obama administration said: "Putting the Terrorist Finance Tracking Programme on this co-operative course is another example of how we can work with our European partners to prevent terrorism and simultaneously respect the rule of law. This co-operation strengthens our transatlantic ties and makes all our people safer."
The Liberal Democrats' European justice and human rights spokeswoman and MEP Baroness Sarah Ludford said that it was important that EU countries develop their technology to search financial databases so that it didn't have to rely on the US.
She said: "This much-improved agreement combines security and justice. MEPs rightly insisted that EU privacy standards could not just be brushed aside. We had to fight hard to push EU governments to be tougher with the Americans. Without the clout of MEPs, some of European citizens' rights would have been sacrificed."
Washington says the deal is crucial to fighting terrorism, as part of the US Terrorist Financing Tracking Programme set up after the September 2001 attacks on the US.