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Belgian PM: Data Transfer Broke Rules

Both SWIFT and the U.S. authorities say records were subpoenaed as part of targeted investigations into suspected terrorist activity.

SWIFT CEO Leonard H. Schrank said the report "raised important issues about the balance" between data privacy and use of financial data for terrorism investigations. He said the company "wholeheartedly supports calls for U.S. and EU authorities to work together to develop an improved framework to reconcile data privacy protections."

It defended its secret deal with the U.S. Treasury, saying it only transmitted a "limited subset" of data to U.S. officials. "SWIFT did its utmost to comply with the European data privacy principles of proportionality, purpose and oversight ... and in the meantime we will continue to work with our members to resolve any data privacy concerns."

The report said it could not accept arguments from SWIFT that the data transferred to U.S. authorities came only from the company's U.S. subsidiary, and not from its global headquarters outside Brussels, and thus did not have to comply with Belgian or EU rules.

The report on the Belgian investigation was eagerly anticipated by the European Commission, which cannot launch a probe of its own under EU law or impose sanctions against those who violate the 1995 data law, but can draft new recommendations to EU governments on beefing up data protection regulations.

EU spokesman Friso Roscam Abbing said it was not known if the Commission could take any action.

European data protection officers agreed Tuesday to continue their fact-finding inquiry into SWIFT, and to meet again in November to consider recommendations.

Under current rules, each EU government is responsible for application and enforcement of the common EU data privacy law.

The U.S. Treasury has acknowledged that since the Sept. 11 attacks, it has tracked millions of confidential financial transactions handled by SWIFT.


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© 2006 The Associated Press