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Data thieves at work – politically correct, of course

SWIFT is based on bank transfers, which can be found with every bank. The sequence of letters, which recalls the name of the author Jonathan Swift (1667-1745), who caused a great furore with his socially critical book “Gulliver’s Travels” published in 1726, also gives cause for annoyance today.
The abbreviation SWIFT stands for “Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication” and is an association of around 10,000 banks from 212 countries which have used the internal SWIFT network since 1973. Its headquarters are located in La Hulpe in Belgium.
The data that are transmitted over the SWIFT network are messages, such as names of clients and recipients of transfers, bank account numbers, addresses and national identification numbers. This also applies to the securities trade. SWIFT maintains no accounts of the partners and is also not a means of payment, such as TARGET II. SWIFT advertises with the claim that the communication does not apply to the new SEPA credit transfers; and that accounts of citizens therefore cannot be spied on.

It is clear is that all data can be evaluated, whatever format they come in; it must also be clear that there are bodies interested in this data. States want very much to know where their citizens are sending their earnings, and what companies are doing with their profits. The whole thing takes place, for example, under the general suspicion of combating terrorism, such as in the mid-2000’s, when it was discovered that SWIFT had passed on confidential data on account movements to US authorities, and data protection commissions of various countries were arguing about what legal consequences should be applied to this violation of banking secrecy. The dispute of the experts did not result in any legal consequences; nor any moral ones. The USA did not need to excuse itself, did not have to assume any official legal position - it was stated officially that: “This access took place in agreement with the company, but without any legal basis between Europe and the USA.”. Nevertheless SWIFT still relocated servers which had been installed up to the end of 2009 in the USA, to Europe, making it more difficult for the US authorities to access the data. This manoeuvre was aimed rather at the competition over the data, because Europe has no own system of its own for data acquisition and is forced to request this data back from the USA.

The fact that SWIFT did not make public this passing on of data, but rather concealed it from citizens, shows how sensitive the use of this data is, and that the USA, particularly since 11th September 2001, under the guise of combating terrorism, is living out a paranoia which rides rough-shod over the rights of countries and individuals.
It is perhaps understandable that the USA wants to hear every blade of grass in the world growing, at least, when 11th September 2001 is considered; regardless of this however, it must not be allowed to happen that the loudest advocate of basic, liberal democratic rules of co-existence reserves for itself such privileges. It is just this outrageous behaviour of the country that hardly contributes to acknowledging and understanding how important it is to control such data. Instead, it gave rise to the opinion that the USA and its uncontrolled thirst for data should itself be controlled; that it is essential to set a watch on these self-appointed watchers. In the clamour of moral indignation, it was overlooked that the EU is also very interested in this data, and that it was not only the USA which had behaved immorally, but that the EU also uses such data completely without control and at its own discretion. Yet the EU feared resistance from its citizens, and the EU Council therefore presented in November 2009 an agreement which was supposed to regulate the future data exchange, the so-called SWIFT Treaty.
It was not intended that transfers within the EU should be monitored; nor that the USA should be informed about any transaction, or that the USA should be given access to the data.
The German coalition government of the CDU/CSU and FDP, which was elected in 2009, supported the SWIFT Treaty, and promised in the corresponding Coalition Contract, to work for “a high level of data protection (strict purpose limitation, deletion of the data, clear rules regarding disclosure to third countries) and effective legal protection.” It further states on page 105 of the Treaty: “Automated access to SWIFT from the outside will be excluded. The transmission of data is linked to requirements of circumstances and restricted on the basis of a threat and risk analysis. The volume of data transmitted is to be kept as low as possible.” They also made the Treaty subject to the reservation of ratification. The Union and the FDP agreed that the SWIFT Treaty would be a wonderful thing, and came to the conclusion that the requirements of data protection would be satisfied.

On 30th November 2009, the Federal Republic of Germany, represented by Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière, abstained from the vote on the SWIFT Treaty in the EU Council of Ministers. Germany did not vote in favour; but nor did it vote against the Treaty. Since no other country voted “No”, the Treaty came into effect, although without the restrictions specified in the Coalition Agreement (an infringement against democracy).
The German Government thereby gave the Merkel the chance to organise reasonable data protection. German offices, such as the Tax Office, Employment Department, police or Interior Ministry would be provided with information on request, although this would have to be legally justified. Now anyone who has access to this data can use it for their own purposes. The current Merkel Government took over the position regarding the SWIFT Treaty without restriction, and also printed it with the same wording in the current coalition agreement - this time on page 107.
When a report by Europol (European Police Office), unfortunately secret and therefore not available as a link, proved that the USA, which should only have been provided with data in the event of justified suspicion, had nevertheless been spying on transfers within the EU, because every request received a reply, it became clear: The data protection regulations of the SWIFT Treaty were just so much waste paper.
All decision-making bodies that had created the agreement had to recognize that the agreements of the SWIFT Treaty were not specific. The EU bathed in this non-specific state of affairs and kept out of trouble by remaining silent. The USA was the “bad guy”, and Europol as the controller was left in the lurch with this task by the regents in this mire of uncertainty. The failure of the Review Committee was unavoidable.
The legal principles of the SWIFT Treaty regarding data protection are aimed at different areas and are listed here. They require more detailed specification and control, by a Commission formed specially for this purpose, which would also have recourse to legal consequences. It would have to work throughout Europe and also together with the countries which want to use the data. The usage rights must be defined and there must be reasonable grounds for suspicion.

The dispute over the SWIFT Treaty has still not been resolved to this day. The present Merkel government is evading all responsibility by doing nothing; MEPs protest sometimes louder, sometimes more quietly. The European Parliament is powerless, because the USA, due to the vague statements of the paper, has all possibilities and none at all; and Europe has no system that could analyse such data. The EU is therefore in the same boat as the USA, and must be grateful that the whole farce has been brought to an end for the moment, since EU Commissioner for Internal Affairs Cecilia Malmström, who was initially amongst the opponents of the USA machinations, recently decided that the USA was adhering to the stipulations of data protection, and that everything, including the EU, was in order, all this without control, without accountability and without any legal basis, let alone allowing citizens to be provided with any information. On the contrary, the whole farce brought to light that the protesting MEPs apparently had no idea that the EU was also making use of this data. The hanky-panky went on without their knowledge, so that their protest made them look like asses.
This gives rise to the question of why it was necessary to draw up a paper, and to define legal regulations that are immediately overridden. It also appears to make little sense if the EU aims to create by 2015 a system for collecting data (on what legal basis?), so that the USA and the EU can analyse data which is actually assigned to the user, and as such should remain secret. The argument of the EU and the USA, that the exchange of data should be restricted by this means, then sounds illogical, because if two systems are carrying out the analysis, there will perhaps be no further data exchange, while the citizen however will be spied on twice, and forced to reveal private matters, which should not be able to be addresses either by the EU or the USA. The crowning glory of this plan is: If no EU system comes into being, the situation will remain as at the present. The EU will then also not have to lay down any legal principles, but can still continue to remain silent due to the vague wording of the Treaty, and the fact that the USA is clearly not making illegal use of the data, and on this basis lay its hands on any data as it pleases. An EU system is nevertheless being aimed for, because those responsible will hardly forego taking advantage of this opportunity to emancipate itself from its over-mighty partner, the USA, in order to stand on its own two feet as an association of states. It remains to be seen on what legal basis this system would then be installed; it can be expected that the EU will refer to the SWIFT Treaty without adapting or detailing it any further. The search for a suitable system will also not cost any taxpayers’ money, so it must be irrelevant to him for whom this striptease is being performed. He has no means of protesting against the publication of the data.
It still remains unclear to the citizen, who always suffers the results of the confusion in international politics over the SWIFT Treaty when he fills out a SEPA transfer (SEPA=Single European Payment Area) at the bank counter, to what extent the bank uses, analyses or passes on information (USA, EU), and all despite the general data protection regulations of the banks and savings banks. It must be assumed that this concerns information such as the client, recipient, address and account number, but also ethnicity, political conviction, religion or belief, membership of trade unions and associations, and data on purchases.
This certainly cannot be a case of individual accounts (protected data format), but must refer to the transfers of a bank within a certain period. The SWIFT Treaty unfortunately also fails to say what will happen with the data. It may not be linked to other databases, it may not be processed, and no copies of the data should be made - except for security backups (i.e. still copies). Otherwise it states: The US Treasury should “ensure appropriate data protection”. The procedure regarding the disclosure of the data to third parties is formulated just as vaguely, and that means: it could happen.
The data is stored and retained for five years. According to the SWIFT Treaty, everyone has the right to find out what data has been recorded. If a citizen requests disclosure, he should not be surprised if the bank saves itself through the following back-door of fickle report: the citizen makes the request to the bank. The bank then directs the enquiry to the Federal Commissioner for Data Protection, who sends it on to his colleagues in the US Treasury, who investigate the question. Such a question must be answered and justified in writing because if the answer is negative. So much for the planned procedure.
Because it can be assumed that the Federal Commissioner for Data Protection does not have the capacity to act with such proximity to the people (extra personnel for this purpose would not be allocated because of the parlous state of the Federal budget), it must also be assumed that even the American apparatus of bureaucracy would not need to be increased. Where there are no questions, there are no auditors; the banks will therefore be instructed by the management to reject requests immediately. Another conceivable procedure would be: to leave the requests to wait forever for an answer, until even the most stubborn and perseverant bank customer has forgotten the question, and the procedure becomes not only complicated, but also expensive, so expensive that no bank customer makes an enquiry, because he cannot or does not want to pay the relevant charges.
Data collectors meanwhile ply their trade without interference from citizens, and make it possible to monitor financial transactions throughout Europe and internationally, as a precursor to the abolition of cash, which serves a particular purpose: total monitoring for the purpose of expropriation, in order to rescue a currency which has long been past redemption, and to preserve the existence of the many good-for-nothings in the capitals of government.
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