VARIOUS: Bush assails the media over bank-data row while Belgium investigates the legality of the operation
- Title: VARIOUS: Bush assails the media over bank-data row while Belgium investigates the legality of the operation
- Date: 28th June 2006
- Summary: (EU) BRUSSELS, BELGIUM (JUNE 27, 2006) (REUTERS) SWIFT WEB SITE SWIFT STATEMENT REGARDING THE NEW YORK TIMES REPORT THAT IT PASS ON SENSITIVE INFORMATION TO THE US GOVERNMENT READING: "In the aftermath of the September 11th attacks, SWIFT responded to compulsory subpoenas for limited sets of data from the Office of Foreign Assets Control of the United States Department of the Treasury. Our fundamental principle has been to preserve the confidentiality of our users' data while complying with the lawful obligations in countries where we operate. Striking that balance has guided SWIFT through this process with the United States Department of the Treasury." "SWIFT negotiated with the U.S. Treasury over the scope and oversight of the subpoenas. Through this process, SWIFT received significant protections and assurances as to the purpose, confidentiality, oversight and control of the limited sets of data produced under the subpoenas. Independent audit controls provide additional assurance that these protections are fully complied with. "All of these actions have been undertaken with advice from international and U.S. legal counsel and following our long-standing procedures on compliance, established by our Board"
- Reuters ID: LVA8H5I9FU1RTH81JF4A5GMY2DV9
- Duration: 00:00:34
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- Topics: International Relations,Defence / Military
- Usage Terms/Restrictions: None
- Story Text: Belgium's government is investigating the legality of counter-terrorism searches by U.S. officials of thousands of private records held by Brussels-based international bank co-operative SWIFT (Society for World-wide Interbank Financial Telecommunications).
U.S. media reported last week that the U.S. Treasury Department had been tapping into records of the Society for World-wide Interbank Financial Telecommunications since Sept. 11, 2001 for evidence of potential activity by terrorist groups.
Belgian Justice Minister Laurette Onkelinx learned of the searches from the media and asked Belgium's national security services and counter-fraud office to produce reports into the matter before the end of the week, a ministry spokeswoman said.
Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt's spokesman said on Monday (June 26) that the government wanted to ask what were the "legal frontiers in this case and whether it is right that a civil servant could look at a private transaction without the approval of a Belgian judge"
In Paris, Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Jean Marie Cavada, who is chairman of the Committee on Civil Liberties said he was disgusted by the US government's monitoring of financial records as a tool for preventing attacks.
He wants an official conference between EU and US representatives to ensure the SWIFT programme does not become a "vast information commerce in the service of Big Brother".
"In the absence of a treaty, in the absence of negotiations - even private, since we know very well that to fight against terrorism is not an innocent game - but it must have a legal basis - I consider it is the individual, and I would say practically secret, action of a service which got hold of information which does not belong to it," Cavada says.
Swift refused to comment on camera. A statement was posted on their website on Friday (June 22) saying it had done nothing unlawful or that it had violated the privacy of its customers.
It says after the September 11th attacks in the United States it had responded to compulsory subpoenas from the office of Foreign Assets Control of the US Treasury and had received "significant protections and assurances as to the purpose, confidentiality, oversight and control of the limited sets of data produced under the subpoenas"
Cavada says he seriously doubts it that the rights of privacy were respected.
"If this is done to help out terrorists by practising clandestine and illegal methods, its not brilliant, because I would like to remind people that after the CIA flights, the likely transport of prisoners, the kidnapping of suspects who were then later released into the wilderness as it was the case in Germany, we now have an investigation, which is totally clandestine, by an official American service, a second one - after the CIA now the US Treasury - which is putting its nose in banking information in Europe on bank accounts and compensation banks. It's not its business. What guarantees do we have that the confidentiality of the information and of the clients of these banks have been respected, I don't believe a word of it and its time now that the American administration, publicly, or at least through its governments, come and give us the proof that allow themselves to penetrate in people's private space has been of some use in the fight against terrorism, something I am totally not convinced about," he says.
President George W. Bush on Monday (June 26) condemned media revelations of a secret U.S. programme that tracks international financial records in pursuit of suspected terrorists.
The U.S. Treasury Department since the Sept. 11 attacks has been examining data from a Brussels-based financial consortium for evidence of potential activity by terrorism groups.
Despite government efforts to keep the programme quiet, The New York Times laid it out in detail last week, and other major U.S. newspapers also reported on it.
Bush said the financial-records monitoring was legal and an important tool for preventing terror attacks.
"Congress was briefed. And what we did was fully authorised under the law. And the disclosure of this program is disgraceful," Bush told reporters after a meeting with groups supporting the U.S. military in Iraq.
"What we were doing was the right thing. Congress was aware of it, and we were within the law to do so," he said. "If you want to figure out what the terrorists are doing, you try to follow their money. And that's exactly what we're doing."
Vice President Dick Cheney also singled out The New York Times for criticism of its reporting on the bank-records searches and a separate anti-terror program involving warrantless eavesdropping on phone calls.
The disclosure late last year of the warrantless eavesdropping program triggered privacy concerns among lawmakers and questions about whether the administration was overstepping its executive powers.
Some lawmakers have raised similar concerns about the bank-records program.
Analysts say there is political upside as well.
Political analyst Charlie Cook said "They've got to motivate their base and conservatives, republicans tend to distrust the media so anytime you can play off and use the media as a foil its probably a good thing."
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- Embargoed:13th July 2006 13:00