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Swiss data protection official denounces disclosure of banking information

[JURIST] Switzerland's top Federal Data Protection and Information Commissioner [official website] Hanspeter Thür said Friday that Swiss banks violated national secrecy laws when they failed to inform customers using the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT) [official website] international banking cooperative service that their personal data could be disclosed to third parties, including the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) [official website]. Thür's comments contradict the position adopted by Swiss Finance Minister Hans-Rudolph Merz [official profile] last month when he concluded that such banking disclosures to the CIA in terrorism investigations complied with Swiss law. Thür stressed a need for standardization of US and European information-protection laws, specifically citing the concern that SWIFT may provide data to one country whose laws are less strict than those in which the customer is based. The New York Times has more.

Many independent groups have expressed opposition to the SWIFT disclosures. Last month, the Belgian Data Privacy Commission [official website] released a report [JURIST report] which claimed that SWIFT had provided 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." The European Commission's Article 29 Data Protection Working Party [official website] is still expected to adopt a formal position [JURIST report] on the SWIFT data transfer issue upon completion of its investigation in November, although its chairman has already criticized [JURIST report] SWIFT's data transfers to the US.

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