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Sunday, October 08, 2006

SWIFT in Sydney but privacy not on the agenda

If you’re in Sydney this week, watch out for hordes of banking types – over 6000 are expected from around the world to attend the 6th Annual SWIFT SIBOS Conference, described as the” world’s premier financial services event”.

SWIFT, the Belgian based interbank transfer co-operative, has been much in the news over the last few months following revelations that US authorities had accessed its data as part of ongoing terrorism investigations, potentially in breach of privacy laws of Belgium, and other countries including Australia that utilise the system.

In his conference message, SWIFT CEO Leonard Schrank says that since June its been a challenge “to deal with the consequences of the unfortunate disclosures in the media” but reiterates that “everything we did was legal, limited, targeted, protected, audited and overseen”, and compulsory to boot.

Others haven’t yet reached the same conclusion. According to this report of comments to an EU Parliamentary committee by the European Data Protection Supervisor, “serious questions have arisen on the routine sharing of financial data by SWIFT with a complete ‘mirror system’ in the US, allowing access through a ‘black box’ arrangement. These questions need further analysis and reflection on compatibility with European data protection law and on different issues of responsibility”. The European Central Bank is also under examination for its failure to alert authorities to the arrangements.

Several other privacy commissioners are examining whether there may have been a breach of other national privacy laws.

We mentioned some time ago that the Australian Privacy Foundation has written to the Federal Privacy Commissioner asking for an investigation, but so far there has been no public response.

A quick look at the agenda for the Sydney Conference indicates that this issue won’t be discussed in formal sessions, but may be a hot topic in the corridors and at coffee time. The program says there will be a daily poll published "covering the hot topics and issues of the day", but it will only be available to conference participants. Love to be a fly on the wall.

The agenda includes a session on what India can do for the international banking and finance industry, timely given the publicity over the last week concerning allegations of widespread data theft by Channel 4. The UK Information Commissioner has since initiated an inquiry into security for British data held by Indian call centres.

NSW Fair Trading Minister, Diane Beamer has reacted to the Channel 4 program by calling on the Federal Government to take steps to force the banks to step up security to ensure customer details do not fall into the hands of criminals.

The SWIFT session on India’s role in the delivery of financial services could turn out to be a highlight of the Sydney program.

Thanks to PogoWasRight for some leads here.

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