8 October 2006

Commentary: SWIFT defends compliance at EU Parliament hearing

Urges global framework

Francis Vanbever, CFO, SWIFT

Francis Vanbever, CFO, SWIFT

Speaking at a three-hour hearing of the European Parliament in Brussels on Wednesday 4 October, SWIFT CFO Francis Vanbever told Parliamentarians and journalists that SWIFT’s compliance with compulsory subpoenas from the US Treasury was legal and that SWIFT “strongly objected” to the opinion of the Belgian Data Privacy Commission that it had broken Belgian and EU data protection laws.

The commission’s report contains inaccuracies and is only one interpretation of the law. SWIFT had no choice but to comply,” said Vanbever. He later told Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) that he was “disturbed” by the fact that SWIFT had not been invited to comment on the Privacy Commission’s report before it was made public.

Vanbever also re-confirmed SWIFT’s endorsement of calls by national and EU politicians, including Belgian Prime Minister Verhofstadt, for renewed cooperation between the EU and US, a call which was endorsed by European central bank president Jean-Claude Trichet. Trichet said during the hearing, that the system is imperfect and that the situation regarding transatlantic data transfers had to be clarified. He then called for a global solution because the problem is worldwide. “We need a global framework,” said Trichet.

The commission’s report contains inaccuracies and is only one interpretation of the law. SWIFT had no choice but to comply" Francis Vanbever, SWIFT

Vanbever continued, “SWIFT would welcome such clarification,” before adding that the double-taxation prevention treaties between countries had resolved similar situations in the fiscal area. Because no one country can solve global tax issues, treaties exist to prevent companies and individuals being taxed twice on the same income by different authorities.

Following the hearing, MEPs agreed to establish an ad-hoc working group to examine the issue further. This group will bring together cross-party members of the EUs civil liberties and economic affairs committees.

SWIFT expects the public debate to now move on from the details of SWIFT’s compliance to the development of a clear legal framework which strikes a balance between the need for data privacy protections and the need for personal security.

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