Feeds

Banks unleash paper tigers over terror data probe

'We've written some letters'

SANS - Survey on application security programs

British banks have responded to European privacy watchdogs, who claim they broke the law by letting US anti-terror investigators have access to the details of their customers' international financial transactions.

The banks have written letters to their customers, and claim this should be enough to put them in the clear.

British Banking Association retail director Stewart Dickey said banks wrote to their customers to warn them that the details of their international transactions might be accessed by US investigators.

He said this responds to the demands of the Article 29 Working Party (A29), which has co-ordinated the action of data protection authorities across Europe to ensure the banks' co-operation with US agents does not violate individual liberties.

The A29 group, though it has no actual power to enforce its demands, said in November that Europe's financial institutions, all of which conduct their international business through the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (Swift), must get this "illegal state of affairs" corrected "immediately".

That order, Dickey said, had been complied with.

"We have to watch carefully what happens in Brussels (where transatlantic agreement is being fleshed out) but, given that Swift are working on this, for the moment that is all we need to do - to make sure the information given to customers is correct.

"We are working very closely with the ICO and he's very much aware - and the Working Party - of what we are doing.

"He is content with the actions the banks are taking with regard to improving the information they give to customers."

The UK Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) has been pressing British banks and financial institutions in accord with its European counterparts.

A spokesman for the Information Commissioner said it had written to "various representative bodies", though wouldn't divulge who these were - despite Europe's privacy watchdogs' recent commitment to transparency.

Following bold European statements to correct the "illegal state of affairs" immediately, the UK's own requests to its financial institutions seemed a little limp.

"We asked them to look at what steps, if any, are needed to make sure UK financial institutions comply with data protection legislation," the spokesman said.

"We explained that, at this stage, we are not expecting to take enforcement action against any UK financial institutions, however, this may need to be considered if the current situation remains unchanged," he added.

What the UK ICO is not outwardly saying is that it might have little more recourse than polite entreaty.

As reported before, Swift operates an effective monopoly on international financial operations. Eighty-eight British financial institutions hold shares in Swift, while a total 457 UK institutions are connected to its network. They can't be ordered to stop using Swift without bringing the world's markets to a halt. The US won't stop its terrorist finance investigation and shows no sign of welcoming European privacy watchdogs into its little coterie.

So the banks appear to be in the clear until the Europeans flesh out the transatlantic agreement for which they opened negotiations with the US last week.

"The banks are waiting to see if they can be saved by the international agreement," a source in Brussels said.

Dickey said as far as Swift was concerned it had struck its own deal with the US to protect the privacy of its data.

"Swift will tell you that the information given to the Americans was very strictly controlled. The point is that the data transferred complies with data protection laws," he said.

The data protection authorities say otherwise, but they can't really do much about it for now. Dickey, as if to rub salt in the wound, says the same stands for him until there's a transatlantic agreement.

That's just what the authorities fear - that a transatlantic agreement between Swift and the US becomes a precedent for other agreements which subvert the broader legal principles the data protection wonks are fighting to protect. ®

High performance access to file storage

More from The Register

next story
Putin tells Snowden: Russia conducts no US-style mass surveillance
Gov't is too broke for that, Russian prez says
One year on: diplomatic fail as Chinese APT gangs get back to work
Mandiant says past 12 months shows Beijing won't call off its hackers
Record labels sue Pandora over vintage song royalties
Companies want payout on recordings made before 1972
Edward Snowden on his Putin TV appearance: 'Why all the criticism?'
Denies Q&A cameo was meant to slam US, big-up Russia
Judge halts spread of zombie Nortel patents to Texas in Google trial
Epic Rockstar patent war to be waged in California
Lavabit loses contempt of court appeal over protecting Snowden, customers
Judges rule complaints about government power are too little, too late
MtGox chief Karpelès refuses to come to US for g-men's grilling
Bitcoin baron says he needs another lawyer for FinCEN chat
Don't let no-hire pact suit witnesses call Steve Jobs a bullyboy, plead Apple and Google
'Irrelevant' character evidence should be excluded – lawyers
EFF: Feds plan to put 52 MILLION FACES into recognition database
System would identify faces as part of biometrics collection
Ex-Tony Blair adviser is new top boss at UK spy-hive GCHQ
Robert Hannigan to replace Sir Iain Lobban in the autumn
prev story

Whitepapers

Securing web applications made simple and scalable
In this whitepaper learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.
3 Big data security analytics techniques
Applying these Big Data security analytics techniques can help you make your business safer by detecting attacks early, before significant damage is done.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Top three mobile application threats
Learn about three of the top mobile application security threats facing businesses today and recommendations on how to mitigate the risk.
Combat fraud and increase customer satisfaction
Based on their experience using HP ArcSight Enterprise Security Manager for IT security operations, Finansbank moved to HP ArcSight ESM for fraud management.