Shifty SWIFT

When paying a bill, do you ever wonder what personal information you are giving out about yourself – and to whom?

– Nordea doesn’t give information of the requests for transfers besides for the parties that are involved in the process. An exception is, though, crime investigation specified by the police, and in some cases financial supervisory authority. FiVa’s questions however are general, not customer based, says Olli Kähkönen from Nordea’s strategy and infrastructure unit.

By the parties involved Kähkönen means beneficiaries’ banks to which Finnish banks are obligated to disclose a unique identifier related to the payer, such as personal identity code. Different statutes impose obligations under which banks must disclose customer data to authorities such as the tax authorities. A bank can also share customer information within its corporation.

But whose information does your bank account and social security number become, when it gets outside the borders of our country? When transferring money outside the country, Finland uses SWIFT platform. SWIFT – the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication- is a data carrier that enables its customers to exchange financial information and transactions.

Using SWIFT has worked well – until the year 2006, when New York Times revealed that the U.S. authorities, for example CIA, were accessing European citizens banking data, held in SWIFT’s database in the USA without knowledge of the European authorities.

SWIFT decided to replace its U.S. database, through which U.S. can catch the data, and build new storages centers to Switzerland and Netherlands. Without an agreement, the US is no longer able to consult the data.

EU’s interior ministers made a temporary agreement with the US last month, which allows a wide range of data to be examined by U.S. authorities. The Members of the European Parliament were annoyed with the agreement and felt ignored in the discussion by the Council of Ministers. They will renegotiate the agreement again, now since the Lisbon treaty came in force.

SWIFT Headquarters in Belgium.

SWIFT Headquarters in Belgium.

”The new agreement’s terms make it possible for U.S. to transfer the data to a third party. This kind of information sensible to malpractice should be released outside E.U. only in most exceptional situations”, commented MEP Heidi Hautala in the end of November to a Finnish newspaper Taloussanomat.

“This kind of an agreement should not be made behind the backs of citizens as it’s now likely to happen”, she highlighted.

Is it made behind our backs? We don’t know, because the decision makers don’t like to talk about it. The bank manager coordinating SWIFT operations in Finland refused to give an interview in A-studio after contacting SWIFT’s headquarters.

We tried to reach Tuija Brax, the minister of justice, to inquire what does it mean that ”TFTP-program, which U.S. uses in their counterterrorism work has helped E.U. prevent terrorism too”, as the Ministry of Justice stated. She didn’t reply.

The SWIFT logo.

We especially wanted to know, what this agreement means to an average citizen and his or her rights to privacy. Luckily Nordea bank told “There hasn’t been reported any data security leaks in the documents of SWIFT’s board or in the summaries filed for its members.”

It seems like the only leak is the willingness of the decision makers to give our private information to the US. For free?

Elisa Koponen
Jenni Junkala

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