Bank Spying Update

In Misc. on September 29, 2006 at 10:03 am

Back in June, Liftwhileclimbing did some reporting on a program between U.S. authorities and Belgian Financial records company SWIFT, in which data regarding financial transactions was turned over to U.S. authorities in the name of “anti-terrorism.”  Today, Washington Post gave an update of the situation:

A secret U.S. program to monitor millions of international financial transactions for terrorist links violated Belgian and European law and will have to be changed, the Belgian government said Thursday.

The decision, announced by Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, came as the country’s Data Privacy Commission released a 20-page report finding that the Belgium-based Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, or SWIFT, had improperly turned over data from millions of global financial transactions to U.S. anti-terrorism investigators.

“It has to be seen as a gross miscalculation by SWIFT that it has, for years, secretly and systematically transferred massive amounts of personal data for surveillance without effective and clear legal basis and independent controls in line with Belgian and European law,” the report says…

SWIFT said in a statement that it had relinquished data to the U.S. Treasury Department only after it had been “subject to valid and compulsory subpoenas” from U.S. authorities.

The Belgian ruling is the latest in a string of European complaints about how the United States is conducting global operations against terrorism. European governments, politicians, human rights groups and citizens have also criticized the treatment of inmates at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the operation of secret prisons by the CIA — including some reportedly in Europe — and the CIA’s extrajudicial transfers of terror suspects.

Europeans tend to support strong efforts against terrorist groups — many of their countries have terror cells within their borders, and two, Britain and Spain, have suffered major attacks on their transit systems. But many Europeans believe that U.S. policies go too far and fuel radicalism in the Muslim world….

The program was begun without congressional or court approval shortly after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. With SWIFT’s cooperation, U.S. investigators tapped records from the cooperative’s banks, a total of millions of transactions, looking for suspicious patterns and links to terrorists.

A SWIFT spokesman said Thursday that “the status of the program is unchanged.”


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