Privacy International Files Suit

In Culture of Corruption, Economic Justice, International politics, Laws & Regulation, Terrorism, US Politics on June 27, 2006 at 7:35 pm

Privacy International filed suit against SWIFT, the financial industry cooperative clearinghouse which provided millions of private banking records to the CIA, FBI, and US Treasury Dept. According to the International Herand Tribune:

The complaints were filed in all 25 member nations of the European Union, plus Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Switzerland, Lichtenstein, Norway and Iceland. The group said it also filed a complaint in the semiautonomous Chinese territory of Hong Kong.

“Swift appears to have violated data protection rules in Europe by making these transfers without the consent of the individuals involved, and without the approval of European judicial or administrative authorities,” Mr. Davies(the director of Privacy International) said. “The scale of the operation, involving millions of records, places this disclosure in the realm of a fishing exercise rather than a legally authorized investigation.”

Privacy International lays out seven points, each of which will necessarily be unpacked in the coming days and weeks:

There are a number of inconsistencies in the accounts so far.

  1. The U.S. claims that this is a narrowly focused programme that is compliant with the law, while the Belgian Government has concerns that the data is accessed without authorisation by a Belgian judge.
  2. The Bush Administration claims that it has been open with reporting this to Congressional leaders, but some found out as late as May 2006 once it became clear that the story was about to break.
  3. As with most cases of international co-operation, the country seizing the data, i.e. the U.S., is claiming universal jurisdiction while the regime responsible for protecting the data, the EU, is disavowing any responsibility.
  4. The U.S. claims that the data is only used for combatting terrorism, but then admits that it has shared data on other illegal transactions with relevant agencies.
  5. The U.S. claims that they only get access to specific data when it is relevant to an investigation, but this does not explain how they have been able to access to the entire database of billions of transactions.
  6. The U.S. claims that it the data is searched only when it is relevant to an investigation and then admit that there were possibly hundreds of thousands of such searches.
  7. The U.S. claims that it had briefed the international oversight bodies, e.g. G-10 bank central governors, but the Central Bank governors deny that they have jurisdiction over such activities and the Belgian Minister of Justice admitted that she heard of the transfers from the media.

These inconsistencies have severe implications for trust and confidence in the international finance sector. PI calls for an immediate halt of the transfers until essential questions regarding due process and privacy protections can be answered adequately.

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