Financial messaging network Swift has robustly defended its compliance policies to European parliamentarians in the wake of a critical report by Belgian privacy watchdogs into the US Government's scrutiny of transaction data passed over the network.
Speaking at a three-hour hearing of the European Parliament in Brussels on Wednesday 4 October, Swift CFO Francis Vanbever told politicians and journalists that Swift’s compliance with compulsory subpoenas from the US Treasury was legal and that Swift "strongly objected" to the opinion of the Belgian Data Privacy Commission that it had broken Belgian and EU data protection laws.
The report, published in late September, accused the banking co-operative of a "gross miscalculation" in failing to secure an effective and clear legal basis for the data trawling and independent controls in line with European rules.
Says Venbever: "The commission’s report contains inaccuracies and is only one interpretation of the law. Swift had no choice but to comply."
He later told Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) that he was "disturbed" by the fact that Swift had not been invited to comment on the Privacy Commission’s report before it was made public.
Vanbever also re-confirmed Swift's endorsement of calls by national and EU politicians, including Belgian Prime Minister Verhofstadt, for renewed cooperation between the EU and US, a call which was endorsed by European central bank president Jean-Claude Trichet.
Trichet said during the hearing that the system is imperfect and that the situation regarding transatlantic data transfers had to be clarified. He then called for a global solution because the problem is worldwide. "We need a global framework," said Trichet.
Vanbever welcomed Trichet's intervention, noting that the double-taxation prevention treaties between countries had resolved similar situations in the fiscal area.
Following the hearing, MEPs agreed to establish an ad-hoc working group to examine the issue further. This group will bring together cross-party members of the EUs civil liberties and economic affairs committees.
Swift is hoping that the move will draw a clear line under the issue, which has dogged the network since news of the US Government's top secret data snooping programme was made public in the summer.