US anti-terror measures break EU privacy laws

29 September 2006

The US government has gained access to information concerning millions of private banking transactions in Europe, breaking European Union privacy laws, it has emerged.

According to a report published by Belgium's privacy protection commission, Belgian banking consortium Swift (the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication) was in breach of the EU rules on privacy when it agreed to hand over confidential information about private accounts as part of the US's anti-terrorism efforts.

The report said that Swift, which processes money transfers on behalf of many of the world's largest banks, transferred personal data "secretly and systematically… without effective and clear legal basis and independent controls".

However, the Bush administration has defended the previously secret program, arguing that uncovering the methods by which terrorist cells are funded is central to the so-called 'war on terror'.

It is estimated that Swift handles around 11 million transactions a day from over 200 different countries, although the company claims that only a small amount of data was actually transferred.

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