Belgian Justice Ministry to probe Swift data searches

Belgian Justice Ministry to probe Swift data searches

The Belgian Justice Ministry has been asked to investigate the legality of US government snooping of financial transactions passed over Brussels-based interbank messaging network Swift.

According to a report in the International Herald Tribune, Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt of Belgium has asked the Justice Ministry to examine whether Swift had done anything illegal by providing access to information from its database to the US authorities without the approval of a Belgian judge.

The move follows last week's revelations by the New York Times that the Bush administration was using emergency powers to access data on suspect wire transfers sent over the Swift network.

The IHT report quotes a spokesman for Verhofstadt, Didier Seus: "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 a private transaction without the approval of a Belgian judge."

While Swift had no option under US law but to comply with the data requests, Seus says the government wants to ascertain whether its actions were compatible with Belgian law, which requires individual court-approved warrants to examine specific transactions.

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