European Parliament members call for SWIFT suspension over NSA spying

Sept. 18, 2013 at 7:52 AM
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WASHINGTON, Sept. 18 (UPI) -- Some European Parliament members, angered by U.S. monitoring of bank data in the European Union, called for a suspension of a U.S.-EU pact on sharing bank data.

Jan Philipp Albrecht, a Green Party member in the European Parliament, has demanded suspension of the SWIFT agreement, which governs the transfer of some bank data from the European Union to U.S. anti-terror agencies, Spiegel Online reported Wednesday.

"Now that we know that which we had long been suspected, we have to protest loudly and clearly," Albrecht said.

Der Spiegel, based on documents whistle-blower Edward Snowden allowed the publication to see, reported Monday the U.S. National Security Agency monitors a significant number of international money transfers, including bank and credit card transactions. Information obtained goes into a financial database known as Tracfin.

Data from the SWIFT network, which is based in Brussels, also winds up in the Tracfin database. SWIFT, which handles international transfers among thousands of banks, is identified by the NSA as a "target" the Snowden documents indicated.

European Parliament President Martin Schulz also demanded the United States honor its obligation for openness with Europe.

"European data protection regulations have to be the clear standard in dealings with the Americans," Schulz told Speigel Online, noting abandoning the SWIFT agreement wouldn't work unless an alternative was available for handling important international banking transactions.

James Clapper, U.S. national intelligence director, told The Washington Post the NSA collects financial information to provide "the U.S. and our allies early warning of international financial crises, which could negatively impact the global economy."

Meanwhile, the secret U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court said no phone company ever challenged its orders for bulk phone records under the Patriot Act.

The court, in a formerly top-secret opinion, also upheld the constitutionality of the NSA's sweeping collection of billions of Americans' phone records for counter-terrorism purposes.

"To date, no holder of records who has received an order to produce bulk telephony metadata has challenged the legality of such an order," Judge Claire Eagan wrote in an Aug. 29 opinion released in declassified form Tuesday.

"Indeed, no recipient of any Section 215 order has challenged the legality of such an order, despite the mechanism for doing so," wrote Eagan, whose redacted 29-page opinion can be found at

Section 215 of the 2001 act allows the secretive court to issue an order letting the FBI obtain "any tangible things" in connection with a national security investigation.

While no telecommunications company challenged the court's bulk-surveillance orders, Qwest Communications International Inc. refused to participate in the effort before the George W. Bush administration gave authority to oversee the bulk phone-records collection to the court in 2006, USA Today reported May 11, 2006.

The telecommunications companies' compliance with bulk phone-records collection orders contrasts with some Web companies' protests over orders to give user information to the FBI for NSA use.

On the constitutionality of NSA amassing Americans' phone records, Eagan said the practice was justified, provided the government can show it relates to authorized investigations into known and even unknown terrorists who may be in the United States.

"The government's burden under Section 215 is not to prove that the records sought are, in fact, relevant to an ongoing investigation," Eagan wrote. Instead, the government must simply show it has "reasonable grounds to believe that the information sought to be produced has some bearing on its investigations of the identified international terrorist organizations."

Eagan acknowledged this burden was lower than that required in normal criminal investigations. But she said this was OK because the government sought to prevent a future terrorist attack, not solve an already committed crime.

Eagan's opinion is the first to be made public that addresses the constitutionality of NSA bulk-records compilation of phone data, The Washington Post said.

Under the program, the NSA collects metadata, or phone numbers dialed and received and their time and duration, but not subscriber names or what was said, the government says.

A FISA Court spokesman said Eagan decided on her own to reveal the opinion, not because the government asked her to or because of lawsuits from civil liberties groups.

Civil liberties groups said they were alarmed by the ruling.

"This isn't a judicial opinion in the conventional sense," American Civil Liberties Union Deputy Legal Director Jameel Jaffer said in a statement.

"It's a document that was cobbled together over the last few weeks to justify a secret decision that was made seven years ago. The court should release the original authorization of the NSA phone spying program," he said.

"The opinion only confirms the folly of entrusting Americans' privacy rights to a court that meets in secret and hears argument only from the government," Jaffer added.

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