Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Belgium to probe SWIFT over helping America.

Politics: Remember in that obnoxious article where Bill Keller wrote about publishing the story he had this to say.

We weighed most heavily the Administration's concern that describing this program would endanger it. The central argument we heard from officials at senior levels was that international bankers would stop cooperating, would resist, if this program saw the light of day. We don't know what the banking consortium will do, but we found this argument puzzling. First, the bankers provide this information under the authority of a subpoena, which imposes a legal obligation. Second, if, as the Administration says, the program is legal, highly effective, and well protected against invasion of privacy, the bankers should have little trouble defending it. The Bush Administration and America itself may be unpopular in Europe these days, but policing the byways of international terror seems to have pretty strong support everywhere. And while it is too early to tell, the initial signs are that our article is not generating a banker backlash against the program.
But I bet you and your ilk were hoping for this predictable Euro move. The same goes for the supposed CIA prison story. Its a neat trick to make the Euros jam up the works in helping out tracking and catching terrorists as you bust up their networks. Most of this is CYA and acting shock as I doubt Belgium and others did not know about it. But releasing these stories help to slow down cooperation between countries when a slowdown is the last thing you want to happen.
Belgian prime minister Guy Verhofstadt has ordered a probe into whether a Brussels-based banking consortium broke the law when it provided US anti-terror authorities with confidential information about international money transfers. The consortium known as SWIFT – society for worldwide inter-bank financial telecommunications – was brought into the limelight when the New York Times last week reported that officials from the CIA, the FBI and other US agencies had since 2001 been allowed to inspect the transfers. Prime minister Guy Verhofstadt asked the Belgian justice ministry on Monday (26 June) to investigate whether SWIFT acted illegally in allowing US authorities to inspect the transfers without the support of a Belgian judge. "We need to ask what are the legal frontiers in this case and whether it is right that a US civil servant could look at private transactions without the approval of a Belgian judge," said government spokesman Didier Seus, according to the International Herald Tribune. ....Although SWIFT is based in Belgium – a European Union member – it is also subject to US laws as it has offices there. The US tapping into confidential bank transfers could therefore be legal as long as it is outside of Belgium where court-approved warrants are required. The case comes at a time when the EU and the US have been criticised for the extent to which civil liberties can be sacrificed in the war on terrorism. In May, Europe's highest court of justice overturned an EU-US deal which provides Washington with personal data on airline passengers flying from Europe to the US. Nearly 8,000 financial institutions in 205 countries use SWIFT, which works as a central global centre operating a secure electronic messaging service. The networks transmit nearly €4.8 trillion daily between banks, stock exchanges and other institutions.

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