Banks put customers in Swift Catch-22

'Please treat my data with disrespect'

Bank customers wanting to make international transactions are being asked to sign a waiver to allow their personal details and financial records to be scanned by US anti-terror investigators.

The waivers put customers in the same Catch-22 European data protection officials found themselves in after it emerged that the US had been snooping on the world's international financial transactions in the hope of picking up some transnational insurgents.

According to reports received by The Register, people wanting to make international money transfers using the Belgian-based international banking co-operative Swift (as most do), have been asked to sign a form giving their approval for details of their transaction to be disclosed "to any Government entity, regulatory authority or to any person we reasonably think necessary for these purposes".

These purposes being "fighting crime and terrorism" and "any applicable laws".

The disclaimer warns: "This may mean that personal information will be transferred outside the EEA to countries, which do not provide the same level of data protection as the UK."

This is illegal under EU law, which says data should not be sent to countries that don't give people the same data protection rights.

Yet if customers don't sign away their privacy rights to foreign governments in the name of the "war on terror", they will find it very difficult to make international payments.

This was the same dilemma faced by the EU data protection authorities when they investigated the Swift situation earlier this year. The US was going to take Swift's records no matter what the EU authorities thought about their comparatively inferior data protection laws. And as there was no alternative to Swift, the only solution was for Swift to pull its US servers back onto European soil.

The US and EU are presently trying to harmonise their data protection laws to make such waivers unnecessary. EU law requires police to have good reason for going into people's private records. But proposals are being passed that might water these protections down. ®

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