Feeds

UK Treasury knew of US hunt through British bank data

EU investigation closes in

Boost IT visibility and business value

The Bank of England told HM Treasury about the secret US surveillance of international banking transactions as long as five years ago.

The US's eager pursuit of terrorist financiers, begun within weeks of the 11 September attacks, involved a trawl through the world's financial transactions through subpoenas on the firm that handles them for private banking clients - the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Communication (Swift).

European authorities, including the UK's Information Commissioner, have since declared the US operation "illegal" and have begun to press financial institutions to put a stop to the warrantless and unprotected transfers of private banking data to the US authorities.

This programme remained a secret from privacy watchdogs - even from those people whose data was being handed over to US investigators - until the New York Times unearthed it last June. Yet HM Treasury knew about it for some years.

A spokesman for the Bank of England told The Register: "Swift told us in 2002 that it had agreed with the US subpoenas. We told Swift it should tell the government. We told HM Treasury. We felt they should know."

The G10 central banks, which act as Swift's oversight board, were told about the subpoenas in February 2002, European Central Bank (ECB) president Jean-Claude Trichet told the EU Parliament in October.

But the ECB had decided not to warn "other relevant authorities" about Swift's decision to give US authorities access to its international banking transactions because it believed its own responsibility for "professional confidentiality" among its members was more important.

Other European authorities like the European Data Protection Supervisor might not have been informed, but more European governments might have been aware of the illegal data trawl than just the British.

A source involved in the ongoing European investigations told The Register: "As far as I understand, some central banks I know decided to tell their governments. I've been told that it was a few countries."

The European Parliament passed a resolution this week that stated its concern that the US trawl of EU financial data had gone on so long in violation of "European and national data protection legislation" and without the proper authorities being informed.

It told the European Commission to find out if systems such as Swift's made it easier for foreign governments to commit industrial espionage at the expense of European firms. No specific reference was made to the US Treasury's subpoenas on Swift in this regard, but the example being used on the street in Brussels is Airbus.

It also endorsed the opinion of the European Data Protection Supervisor who two weeks ago said the ECB should be concerned about the privacy because if people thought their transactions weren't secure they might lose confidence in the financial system.

Build a business case: developing custom apps

More from The Register

next story
Hello, police, El Reg here. Are we a bunch of terrorists now?
Do Brits risk arrest for watching beheading video nasty? We asked the fuzz
Detroit losing MILLIONS because it buys CHEAP BATTERIES – report
Man at hardware store was right: name brands DO last longer
Snowden on NSA's MonsterMind TERROR: It may trigger cyberwar
Plus: Syria's internet going down? That was a US cock-up
UK government accused of hiding TRUTH about Universal Credit fiasco
'Reset rating keeps secrets on one-dole-to-rule-them-all plan', say MPs
Caught red-handed: UK cops, PCSOs, specials behaving badly… on social media
No Mr Fuzz, don't ask a crime victim to be your pal on Facebook
e-Borders fiasco: Brits stung for £224m after US IT giant sues UK govt
Defeat to Raytheon branded 'catastrophic result'
Yes, but what are your plans if a DRAGON attacks?
Local UK gov outs most ridiculous FoI requests...
EU justice chief blasts Google on 'right to be forgotten'
Don't pretend it's a freedom of speech issue – interim commish
Munich considers dumping Linux for ... GULP ... Windows!
Give a penguinista a hug, the Outlook's not good for open source's poster child
This'll end well: US govt says car-to-car jibber-jabber will SAVE lives
Department of Transportation starts cogs turning for another wireless comms standard
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Top 10 endpoint backup mistakes
Avoid the ten endpoint backup mistakes to ensure that your critical corporate data is protected and end user productivity is improved.
Top 8 considerations to enable and simplify mobility
In this whitepaper learn how to successfully add mobile capabilities simply and cost effectively.
Rethinking backup and recovery in the modern data center
Combining intelligence, operational analytics, and automation to enable efficient, data-driven IT organizations using the HP ABR approach.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.