EU satisfied by US use of SWIFT data transfers

18th February 2009, Comments 0 comments

European Commission says American treasury not abusing personal information.

BRUSSELS - The United States is respecting its obligations on the correct use of personal data from the interbank transfer service SWIFT in anti-terror probes, the European Commission said Monday.

"The American treasury is respecting its obligations," EU Justice Commissioner Jacques Barrot told reporters, two and a half years after Washington got caught breaking the rules.

Barrot was speaking out after the publication of a report into whether US treasury authorities were abiding by their commitments.

"The data is being used for the sole purpose of fighting terrorism and the control measures in place are the equivalent of those carried out by our own member states," he said.

The new report said the treasury "has implemented significant and effective controls and safeguards which ensure respect for the protection of personal data subpoenaed" for the fight against terror funding, a statement said.

In 2006, Belgium's commission on privacy protection discovered that SWIFT had violated Belgian privacy rules, transferring bank records to the US authorities for use in anti-terrorism investigations.

The US authorities had obtained private information from SWIFT 63 times between September 2001 and June 2006, it reported.

SWIFT admitted it had provided US authorities with a "limited" amount of data in the wake of the September 11 attacks in 2001 for the purpose of fighting extremists but insisted it had done its utmost to protect privacy.

From July 2007, SWIFT undertook to abide by "safe harbour" principles, supplying information from EU countries but using data security standards equivalent to those in Europe.

The information, primarily account numbers involved in a transaction, could only be used by the US treasury in anti-terror investigations and would be erased after five years unless they were used.

The Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT), based near Brussels, deals with trillions of dollars in global transactions daily between nearly 8,000 financial institutions in 200-plus countries.

Under EU data protection rules, information on money transfers can only be used for banking purposes and not for things like investigating financing of "terrorist" activities.


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