Privacy concerns about US snooping need investigating

New Zealand’s passive response to revelations that the US authorities have been intercepting hundreds of thousands of ordinary bank transactions around the globe has fallen far short of the standard set by the European Parliament, Green Party Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Keith Locke says.

Mr Locke has written to Privacy Commissioner Marie Schroff and called for her to investigate the privacy breaches potentially involved with the US searching of bank transactions routed through the Society of World,Wide Interbank Financial Telecommunications, aka SWIFT.

The letter to Ms Schroff followed a series of written parliamentary questions on the subject to the New Zealand Government where associate Justice Minister Clayton Cosgrove basically absolves the Government of all responsibility. ( See replies to Written Questions 08439-42, 08448-49, 09452-55, and 08469)

“By a wide majority, the European Parliament has passed a measure containing many complaints and proposals in the wake of the SWIFT revelations,” Mr Locke said.

“Unlike our Government, the European Parliament is concerned that member nations were not notified about the existence of the Swift transfers – and that such interceptions were therefore taking place without businesses, citizens or their parliamentary representatives being aware that it was happening.

“Unlike our Government, the European Parliament believes such intercepts require the co-operation and consent of governments, via legitimate criminal detection measures and safeguards, and with regard to the appropriate data protection legislation.

“Unlike our Government, the Europeans are concerned about the potential mis-use of the banking transaction intercepts. The banking records that are being monitored, the European Parliament says, could potentially give rise to ‘large scale forms of economic and industrial espionage.’

“Can we trust the US authorities or their employees not to forward to a US firm a crucial piece of economic information about a New Zealand rival competing for business in the global market ?” Mr Locke says.

“Our Government must ensure that privacy rights are respected, and that commercially sensitive information is protected. Hackers get prosecuted and jailed for what the US authorities seem to be doing with impunity, and I think the Privacy Commissioner needs to investigate the situation.”