Wednesday, November 22, 2006

European Union Panel Says Banks Broke Law by Giving Data to U.S.

BRUSSELS, Nov. 23 — A European Union oversight body concluded today that an international banking-data consortium broke the law when it gave the Central Intelligence Agency and other American agencies access to its records of millions of private financial transactions. The body called on the consortium to stop providing the data.


In a draft of a statement that will be made final on Thursday, the European Union’s data-protection “watchdog,” a committee made up of data-protection officials from the union’s member governments, says that financial institutions throughout the union share responsibility with Swift for the data sharing, which it concluded had violated the civil liberties of European citizens.


According to union officials, once the committee formally issues its findings, the European Commission, the union’s executive arm, will decide whether to take the next step: suing the Belgian government for failing to force Swift, which is based in Belgium, to comply with the union’s regulations.


Members of the European Parliament have harshly criticized Swift and the regulators who oversee it, saying they broke the law not only by transferring the data but also by failing to inform the commission, the parliament or other European institutions about it. Several called on Swift to relocate its North American operations to Canada to escape the reach of American court orders and subpoenas.

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