[JURIST] The US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] will likely invoke the state secrets privilege to halt a lawsuit against the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT) [organization website], the Belgium-based international banking cooperative that disclosed personal information [JURIST report] about its customers to third parties, the New York Times reported Friday. The DOJ wants to dismiss the litigation in an effort to preserve the program designed to prevent financing terrorism. The state secrets privilege, which allows the US government to halt litigation on national security grounds, has come under scrutiny recently because of its frequent use by the Bush administration. The Bush administration has invoked the privilege 39 times, compared to just 59 times in the 24 years preceding President George W. Bush's tenure. The Bush administration unsuccessfully asserted the state secrets privilege [JURIST report] in litigation over the National Security Agency's domestic surveillance program [JURIST news archive], while the DOJ is awaiting a ruling [JURIST report] on the state secrets privilege in a class action lawsuit [JURIST report] brought by the Electronic Frontier Foundation involving the domestic surveillance program.
The case involves a lawsuit brought by two American banking customers who sued SWIFT in federal district court in Chicago, where District Judge James F. Holderman ruled that the lawsuit can proceed despite lenient American banking privacy laws. SWIFT moved to transfer the case to Virginia, and District Judge T.S. Ellis will hear a motion to reconsider Holderman's ruling Friday in Alexandria, Virginia. The New York Times has more.