Friday, 09 February 2007
Privacy World - The WORLD'S SHREWDEST PRIVACY NEWSLETTER
Watchdog attacks US swoop for bank secrets
Europe's main privacy watchdog yesterday said that the banking
secrets and rights of millions of people and businesses were being
abused on a massive scale by a clandestine programme giving US
agencies access to the information. It accused the EU's banks and
financial authorities of doing nothing to stop the breaches.
In a damning report on the covert transfer to US agencies of the
details of millions of financial transactions by EU citizens, Peter
Hustinx, the European Data Protection supervisor, accused the
European Central Bank of complicity in the system that has been used
since 9/11 and which was deemed illegal by European data protection
agencies two months ago.
The Belgium-based company Swift (Society for Worldwide Interbank
Financial Telecommunication) has been supplying the US Treasury and
the CIA with details - such as names, account numbers and sums
involved - allegedly as part of George Bush's "war on terror".
After 9/11, Swift agreed to cooperate with the US Treasury by
creating a system where personal data is transferred to a "black
box" owned by the US authorities, enabling "massive transfers of
data" and the "focused searching" of the information by US agencies.
The Brussels-based company says it is obliged to cooperate with the
US authorities because it is subject to US subpoenas and could be
fined for ignoring the requests. The system, which is estimated to
include the bank details of more than 4m Britons, was operated
secretly for years until it was disclosed last summer.
A Belgian investigation into the scheme found that Swift was
operating in uncertain legal territory. Privacy watchdogs across
Europe concluded in November that the company was breaching data
protection laws and privacy rights.
Mr Hustinx said yesterday that the Swift operation "has breached the
trust and private lives of many millions of people". He accused the
Frankfurt-based European Central Bank of failing to demand a halt to
the operation and of keeping quiet for years on the controversy.
The ECB denied responsibility and called instead for the European
and US governments to "clarify" the dilemmas thrown up by a clash
between privacy rights and combating terrorism.
In the European parliament, MEPs demanded new rules to bring an end
to the mass abuse of people's privacy and data protection rights.
Mr Hustinx also warned that the US snooping on European bank
transfers could expose European companies to economic espionage and
jeopardise commercial transactions.
"What is at stake here is nothing less than the protection of
fundamental rights of our citizens," said Jean-Marie Cavada, the
French MEP heading the parliament's civil liberties committee.
Questions are also being asked as to whether the Swift case is the
only instance of private data being trawled by the US agencies or if
telephone, email and insurance data is also being made available.
This article first appeared in the London Guardian.
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Until next issue stay cool and remain low profile!