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Belgium Investigates Group Who Gave Banking Data to US


The Belgium government announced Wednesday it had ordered an inquiry into banking data transferred by a Brussels-based company to the U.S. government. The announcement comes amid mounting controversy in Europe and the U.S. over confidential banking data available to Washington as a way to fight terrorism.

In a statement published on its Internet site Wednesday, the Belgian Prime Minister's office said the probe aimed to determine whether the interests of Belgian nationals were affected and if Belgian law was respected in the transfer of bank data. The data on international money transfers taking place around the globe was provided to the U.S. government by a Brussels-based banking consortium called Swift.

News about the once-secret program was first reported in several U.S. newspapers earlier this month. The Bush administration says its actions are legal, and that it has informed its allies that the program respects privacy safeguards. Washington says the program provides critical information in the fight against terrorism.

But on Tuesday, a London-based human rights group, Privacy International, filed complaints in 32 countries against Swift. Privacy International charges that Swift violated European and Asian data protection rules by providing confidential banking information to Washington of citizens living in these regions.

The European Parliament's largest political party, the European Peoples Party, also wants the European Union to look into whether the data transfers were legal. European Peoples Party spokesman, Robert Fitzhenry, predicted the matter would probably be raised in Brussels next week.

"It seems difficult for us to believe that such a large amount of data can be transferred just like that, without any judicial or administrative approval," he said.

Fears Washington has violated privacy rights in its fight against terrorism have been raised in Europe before. Last month, the European Court of Justice ruled illegal the transfer of airline passenger data to Washington of passengers on trans-Atlantic flights from Europe.

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