PL&B International E-news, Issue 61

1. SWIFT announces new operating centre in Switzerland to avoid DP problems

SWIFT, the international financial communications body with headquarters in Belgium, has announced that it is opening a new Operating Centre in Switzerland in order to avoid data protection problems. In June 2006 three US newspapers revealed that the US Treasury had been monitoring SWIFT’s international financial transactions under secret administrative subpoenas since shortly after 9/11. SWIFT (the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication) had not notified any European data protection authorities. European national and sub-national and EU data protection authorities were not pleased.

In June, the EU announced that SWIFT handling of European messages would now satisfy European privacy standards if customers were informed. In July, SWIFT announced that it had been accepted by the US Department of Commerce’s “Safe Harbor” programme. An “eminent person” would be appointed by the European Commission in consultation with the US Treasury to supervise the monitoring of SWIFT messages and the board would be presented with plans to move from US soil all data related to transactions within Europe. Although no “eminent person” has been appointed, the board has decided to keep intra-European messages within Europe by establishing a new Operating Centre in Switzerland.

SWIFT will create two message processing zones: European and Trans-Atlantic. “Intra-zone messages will stay within their region of origin, thereby overcoming data protection concerns”, said SWIFT CEO Lázaro Campos. “For example, messages internal to the European Economic Area (EEA) and Switzerland will be processed and, where applicable stored only at SWIFT’s two European Operating Centres.”

The initiative requires an investment of 150 million euros, and SWIFT expects the new European Operating Centre to be operational by the end of 2009.

A more detailed report will be available in the next issue of the Privacy Laws & Business International Newsletter out in mid-October.

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