Quick: Time to Stop the SWIFT Agreement

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The so-called SWIFT Agreement, where SWIFT refers to the “Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication”, has close parallels with ACTA, about which I have written several times - not least the way it has gradually emerged from the shadows to be met by growing outrage from people who were kept in the dark about it.

As Wikipedia explains:

A series of articles published on June 23, 2006, by The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Los Angeles Times revealed that the Treasury Department and the CIA, United States government agencies, had a program to access the SWIFT transaction database after the September 11th attacks called the Terrorist Finance Tracking Program.

After these publications SWIFT quickly came under pressure for scrutinizing data privacy of its customers by letting a foreign government agency access sensitive personal data. In September 2006, the Belgian government declared that the SWIFT dealings with U.S. government authorities were, in fact, a breach of Belgian and European privacy laws.Additionally, the U.S. government has submitted "useful" data to U.S. companies (manufacturer - customer relations, prices, etc.).

In response, SWIFT is in the process of improving its architecture to satisfy member privacy concerns by implementing the new Distributed Architecture with a two-zone model for storing messages (see Operations centers).

Concurrent to this process, the European Union negotiated an agreement with the United State Government to permit the transfer of intra-EU SWIFT transaction information to the United States under certain circumstances. Due to concerns about its potential contents, the European Parliament adopted a position statement in September 2009, demanding to see the full text of the agreement, and requesting that it be fully compliant with EU privacy legislation, with appropriate oversight mechanisms in place to ensure that all data requests were handled appropriately. An interim agreement was signed without European Parliamentary approval by the European Council on November 30, 2009, the day before the Lisbon Treaty—which would have prohibited such an agreement from being signed under the terms of the Codecision procedure—formally came into effect. While the interim agreement was scheduled to come into effect on January 1, 2010, the text of the agreement was classified as "EU Restricted" until translations could be provided in all EU languages, and is due to be published on January 25, 2010.

On February 11, 2010, the European Parliament will decide the fate of the interim agreement between the EU and the USA. One week earlier, the parliament's civil liberties committee already rejected the deal, citing legal reservations.

Despite the “reservations” of the European Parliament's civil liberties committee, 11 February is the key date, since that's when the vote in the European Parliament is scheduled to take place. I would therefore like to urge you to write to your MEPs, asking them to vote against the SWIFT agreement.

Remember, this essentially gives the US government access to all financial transactions flowing through SWIFT, and that this includes much sensitive commercial information about you and your company. It would take a totally honest, upright, incorruptible secret service with steely will-power to resist the urge to pass on incidental competitive information that it extracted from the SWIFT streams to its mates in US companies, and given the CIA's past record, I don't somehow think it quite measures up to that particular standard.

If you're looking for inspiration as to what you might say to your MEP, the European Commission is running a (separate) consultation about data transfers between the EU and US, and this has a number of good questions to which you might like to offer your opinions. The deadline for this is 12 March, so you've plenty of time. Writing to your MEP, though is rather more urgent, and needs to be done, er, swiftly, please....

For reference, here's what I've written to my MEPs today:

I am writing to you about the imminent vote on the SWIFT agreement, which I believe takes place on Thursday.

I would like to urge you to vote against this, for a number of reasons.

Transferring all information about SWIFT transactions is a very crude way of combating crime and terrorism, with limited efficacy, but tremendous scope for abuse. Essentially, the privacy of all the Europeans involved in this transfer is placed at risk. Equally, commercial secrets that are embedded within the SWIFT datastreams are also completely in the hands of a direct competitor to the EU – hardly a satisfactory state of affairs. Finally, it represents a loss of sovereignty for the European Parliament, since it has no control over what happens to the information once it is passed to the US.

I therefore urge you to vote against the agreement.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca.

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