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Belgium report flags legal problems with US financial monitoring program

[JURIST] The Belgian Data Privacy Commission [official website] released an advisory report Thursday concluding [press release] that the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT) [official website], the Belgium-based international banking cooperative, has been supplying the US Department of Treasury [official website] with "massive amounts of personal data for surveillance without effective and clear legal basis and independent controls in line with Belgian and European law." Following the release of the report, Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt [official profile] acknowledged [press release, in French] that SWIFT found itself in conflict between American and European law and underscored the importance of respecting privacy rights, saying, "There is no doubt that there is an absolute necessity that we can look through personal data if you want to fight against terrorism, but we have to do it in a good framework."

The European Commission's Article 29 Data Protection Working Party [official website] is already conducting an investigation into SWIFT's data transfers to the US and plans to adopt a formal position [JURIST report] on the matter in November 2006. Earlier this week Working Party chairman Peter Schaar criticized [JURIST report] the White House-authorized financial transactions monitoring program [NYT report; JURIST report], questioning its legality under European law. SWIFT argues [press release] that its compliance with the US initiative was "legal, limited, targeted, protected, audited and overseen" and has expressed its willingness to work with authorities to resolve any data privacy concerns. AP has more.

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