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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: SWIFT: An affair which concerns you

by Francis Wurtz

SWIFT: An Affair Which Concerns You

Translated Thursday 22 July 2010, by Steve McGiffen and reviewed by Bill Scoble

SWIFT: Remember this acronym, because it refers to an affair which concerns you! SWIFT - which I have already had occasion to discuss in these columns when the European Parliament dared to take a firm stand in this matter – is a private corporation based near Brussels through which passes every transaction effected between some 8000 banks from more than two hundred countries. In so doing, the company collects millions of items of personal data covering all of the customers concerned.

In 2006, the American press revealed that the US authorities were accessing these data illegally and clandestinely. This scandal caused an outcry throughout Europe. The justification put forward by Washington – the war on terrorism – was not sufficient to render acceptable this gross violation of the right of each citizen of the European Union to have his or her privacy protected. No fewer than four EU directives, as well as the Charter of Fundamental Rights, and even a European control authority – which brings together France’s CNIL and comparable national commissions – are supposed to see to the scrupulous respect for this democratic guarantee.

The European Commission then thought to overcome this obstacle by negotiating a draft agreement with its partner across the Atlantic to give, after the fact, a legal basis to these illegal practices. But the European Parliament, at the time, refused to endorse this text and made known the conditions which would have to be fulfilled in order to obtain its agreement. One could only applaud! That was last February 11th.

European and American negotiators had, from then on, no choice but to review their copy, promising to take into account the objections of the Strasbourg parliamentarians. A new version of the accord was signed on 28th June. Though it signaled several developments, it remained, on a number of essential questions, totally unacceptable to anyone who was attached to the idea of safeguarding public liberty, including in the context of the fight against terrorism.

For example, the principle of allowing the transmission of millions of items of data dubbed “potentially interesting” was maintained — not just data concerning some specific instance of clearly identified terrorism. Another example: the European authority charged with controlling operations was not to be a public and independent judicial authority, but rather a police agency (Europol!). Final example: the agreement did not even exclude the possibility that some of these data might be transmitted by the American authorities to repressive services of third-party countries! More generally, one searched in vain in this “compromise” for a definition, clear and acceptable to Europeans, of what might be meant by “terrorism”, and still less for any proof of the necessity of this scourge of the transmission of this mass of data – followed by its retention for five years!

Despite this, on this occasion, the majority of MEPs failed to show the same firmness demonstrated last February. In the end, all of the political groups, with the exception of the United European Left (GUE-NGL) and the Greens, fell ’wisely’ into line . This July 8th they simply transformed their fine action of last February 11th into little more than a retreat. Should things be left there and the page turned on SWIFT? I think not. I will return to this subject.

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