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Issue

Financial Privacy

Financial institutions handle huge amounts of important information about their customers, and they are increasingly being required to collect information that far exceeds their legitimate purposes in order to assist governments and companies to build profiles.

Potential infringements of financial privacy arise during the tracking of foreign transactions, the development of payment systems that monitor and report on cash transactions and the sharing of financial information with third parties. Governments and other institutions seek access to financial information in order to administer taxes, prevent and identify money laundering, develop credit profiles and, increasingly, for intelligence purposes.

Customers' information held by financial institutions must be limited to what is necessary to serve the purpose of the commercial relationship between the customer and the institution. It must not be used for other commercial transactions between the institution and any third parties with whom the customer does not have a relationship.

We engage with technology communities and industry on payments systems that seek to change the ways in which financial transactions take place. We have pursued legal actions against the Bush Administration’s policy of accessing global financial flows for intelligence purposes, which led to regulatory and policy action across Europe and Canada. We continually monitor the various laws and institutions that promote the collection and analysis of financial information.

Financial Privacy

Blog
Caroline Wilson Palow's picture

In a move that echoes strong action taken in the past by European officials to protect privacy, the Belgian and Dutch data protection authorities on Wednesday announced that they will begin an investigation into the security of the SWIFT financial system.

Blog
Anna Crowe's picture

Privacy International today is proud to announce our new project, Aiding Privacy, which aims to promote the right to privacy and data protection in the development and humanitarian fields. Below is an outline of the issues addressed in our new report released today, Aiding Surveillance.

New technologies hold great potential for the developing world. The problem, however, is that there has been a systematic failure to critically contemplate the potential ill effects of deploying technologies in development and humanitarian initiatives, and in turn, to consider the legal and technical safeguards required in order to ensure the rights of individuals living in the developing world.

Blog
Caroline Wilson Palow's picture

*Update: The European Parliament has voted to recommend suspension of its Terrorist Finance Tracking Program (TFTP) agreement with the US. The vote in favour of suspension only highlights how the NSA’s reported activities have undermined the agreement. Negotiations should immediately commence to strengthen the privacy and redress provisions, to ensure that governments cannot spy on individuals and obtain their data in violation of the agreement. The recommended suspension of the agreement, however, does not change our position that Europeans are entitled to seek redress regarding the NSA’s breach since the alleged violations occurred while the agreement was still clearly in effect.


Amongst the recent blockbuster revelations of global government surveillance and espionage has emerged a quieter, less ostentatious story surrounding allegations that the NSA is gaining unauthorized access to the international financial messaging system, SWIFT.

Blast
Eric King's picture

The Independent has reported that a new intelligence system has been developed and deployed in the UK in advance of the Olympic games:

"The new system developed by MI5 for the Olympics, including computerisation, details of which are classified, has been in place since last October. It is deemed to have been highly successful, and will be kept in use after the Games have finished....Security Service has installed a new monitoring and intelligence gathering system to ensure safety of the Games. This includes security checks on more than 540,000 people, monitoring militant groups and also liaising with foreign intelligence services."

Blog
Privacy International's picture

Privacy International and EPIC praised a vote today in the European Parliament today that rejected the transfer of finacial records to the United States under an interim agreement. A resolution to reject the deal passed 378-16, with 31 abstentions. Members of the parliament stated the proposed agreement lacked adequate privacy safeguards, and was a disproportionat response to US concerns about terrorism that also lacked reciprocity.

Simon Davies, Director General of Privacy International in London, said that the vote offered hope that political insitutions could respond effectively to new privacy challanges.

"It has taken several years to gather the political will to stop this massive violation of privacy in Europe. But today is a very good day, a milestone in the long history of privacy campaigning.

Mr. Davies acknowledged the leading role of European Parliament Member and rapporteur Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert. In recommending that the proposal negotiated by the European Council be rejected, Ms. Hennis-Plasschaert stated, "Council has not been tough enough on data protection."

Blog
Privacy International's picture

At its last session on November 21st and 22nd 2006, the Article 29 Working Party has again been dealing with the SWIFT case and has unanimously adopted Opinion 128 on its findings in this case.

In this Opinion, the Article 29 Working Party emphasizes that even in the fight against terrorism and crime fundamental rights must remain guaranteed. The Article 29 Working Party insists therefore on the respect of global data protection principles.

Blog
Privacy International's picture

Booz Allen Hamilton, Inc., a prominent defence and intelligence consulting and engineering firm, has been hired as an outside "independent" auditor of the CIA and Treasury Department's Terrorist Finance Tracking Program ("TFTP"), which monitors banking transactions made through the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT). Though Booz Allen's role is to verify that the access to the SWIFT data is not abused, its relationship with the U.S. Government calls its objectivity significantly into question. Booz Allen is one of the largest U.S. Government contractors, with hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. Government contracts awarded each year. Booz Allen has a history of working closely with U.S. Government agencies on electronic surveillance, including the Total Information Awareness program. Among Booz Allen's senior consulting staff are several former members of the intelligence community, including a former Director of the C.I.A. and a former director of the N.S.A.

Blog
Privacy International's picture

Dear Mr Schrank,

I am writing with regard to the current controversy over the private arrangement between SWIFT and the U.S. Government that facilitates the extradition of confidential financial transaction data from SWIFT to U.S. authorities. You will be aware that Privacy International contends that this arrangement breaches privacy and data protection law, and we have lodged complaints with regulatory authorities in 38 countries.

Press release

Privacy International (PI) today filed additional complaints with authorities in Japan, Israel, Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and Argentina. On June 27th PI filed simultaneous complaints with Data Protection and Privacy regulators in 32 countries concerning recent revelations of secret disclosures of records from SWIFT to US intelligence agencies.(1)

The disclosures involve the mass transfer of data from SWIFT in Europe to the United States, and possibly direct access by US authorities both to data held within Belgium and data residing in SWIFT centres worldwide. Data from throughout the world is involved.

All complaints allege that the activity was undertaken without regard to legal process under privacy and Data Protection law, and that the disclosures were made without any legal basis or authority whatever. The scale of the operation, involving millions of records, places this disclosure in the realm of a fishing exercise rather than legally authorised investigations.

PI has also filed a request under Britain’s Freedom of Information Act to the Bank of England, asking for disclosure of all documents relating to dealings between the two organisations.

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