Just when George Bush was winning a victory in the Senate for the right to handle terrorists in a moderately terrifying way, it looks as if he can expect slower help from Swift, the Belgian banking consortium known as the letterhead-heavy Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications.
The banking group was reprimanded by Belgium’s privacy protection commission for aiding the US counterterrorism effort by providing confidential data about money transfers.
The commission’s report stated, “It has to be seen as a gross miscalculation by Swift that it has, for years, secretly and systematically transferred massive amounts of personal data for surveillance without effective and clear legal basis and independent controls in line with Belgian and European law.”
On a swifter note, Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt of Belgium, who presented the report, admitted that sharing such information is essential to curbing terrorism. He sounded more intent that European privacy rules would be respected, saying, “Swift finds itself in a conflicting position between American and European law. But it should have received stronger guarantees of privacy protection based on European standards — not by American standards, which are not as strong.”
While Swift dismissed criticism, maintaining it had assurances the data would be used only in regard to the investigation of terrorism, the CEO, Leonard Schrank, essentially threw up his arms, noting, “We need an agreement between the E.U. and the U.S. that recognizes the global threat of terrorism but has a comfort level for those seeking to guarantee data protection. We are caught between complying with the U.S. and European rules, and it’s a train wreck. But what we have done saves lives in the U.S. and Europe and we must not lose sight of that.”
His outfit really is between a rock and hard place. While based in Belgium, it does significant business in the US. So, whether or not the Euros like it, Swift is obliged to obey subpoenas from US authorities.
How many wrinkles will terrorism make in the orderly operations of the comparatively civilized world and how disruptive will they become? Only Allah knows.