24 October 2006

New York Times public editor reverses himself on 23 June article

Says no evidence of abuse of private data is a key reason

On 22 October 2006, the New York Times (NYT) published a “ Mea Culpa” by its public editor/ombudsman, Byron Calame, now admitting that his previous defence of the NYT 23 June story about SWIFT compliance was a mistake. He cites two main factors for reversing his position:

  1. the apparent legality of the programme in the United States,” and
  2. “the absence of any evidence that anyone’s private data had actually been misused.”

Calame goes on to say that the United States Department of the Treasury’s (UST) programme was secret and should have remained so.

Many data privacy organisations have quoted the original 23 June New York Times article on the UST programme to investigate terrorism and the role of SWIFT as a basis for their concerns.

SWIFT has consistently stated that its compliance with subpoenas issued by the UST for its ongoing terrorism investigations was legal, limited, targeted, protected, audited and overseen. It also followed data privacy principles of proportionality, purpose and oversight. What SWIFT did was also compulsory and saves lives.

Jean-Claude Trichet, president of the European central bank (ECB), told the European Parliament on 4 October 2006, that terrorism has an impact on financial stability and called for a global framework to a global problem. He said a balance is required between the need for financial data for counterterrorism and the need for adequate protections for data privacy. SWIFT supports calls by Belgian prime minister Verhofstadt and ECB President Trichet for such a framework.

SWIFT takes the confidentiality of its members’ data very seriously and has negotiated with the UST unique and extraordinary protections on its members’ behalf.

Banking Data: A Mea Culpa
October 22, 2006 — The New York Times

By Byron Calame

Since the job of public editor requires me to probe and question the published work and wisdom of Times journalists, there’s a special responsibility for me to acknowledge my own flawed assessments.

My July 2 column strongly supported The Times’s decision to publish its June 23 article on a once-secret banking-data surveillance program. After pondering for several months, I have decided I was off base. There were reasons to publish the controversial article, but they were slightly outweighed by two factors to which I gave too little emphasis. While it’s a close call now, as it was then, I don’t think the article should have been published.
 

Read more – click and scroll down to the heading ‘Banking data: A Mea Culpa'

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