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EU panel says financial institution broke privacy laws by sharing data with US

[JURIST] The European Commission's Article 29 Data Protection Working Party [official website] reported Thursday that the Belgium-based Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT) [official website] violated European privacy laws when it released information about cross-border wire transfers by European citizens to the US government. The draft report had been delayed [JURIST report] while the European panel performed further investigations into whether the program violated the European privacy laws, but came as no surprise following a Belgian report [JURIST report] by the Belgian Data Privacy Commission [official website], concluding that SWIFT supplied 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 EU panel lacks enforcement power and any punishment for SWIFT must come from Belgian authorities. The European Commission, however, could take action against Belgium for failing to uphold EU privacy and security laws, but will wait for the Commission's final report before making any decisions.

The New York Times and other papers revealed the once-secret program [NYT report; JURIST report] in June, prompting sharp criticism from the Bush administration, which defended the initiative [press briefing]. The chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee later encouraged the administration to press criminal charges [JURIST report] against the media for publicizing the program, which allowed the CIA [official website] to monitor international financial transactions processed by SWIFT, a Belgium-based banking cooperative. A London-based civil liberties group subsequently asked data-protection and privacy officials in more than a dozen countries to prevent the further release of confidential financial information [JURIST report] to American authorities. According to US government officials, the program targets those with suspected ties to Al Qaeda. AP has more.

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