Wednesday, August 02, 2006

EU Privacy Regulators to Probe Data Transfers to US

An EU-wide group of privacy watchdogs said on Friday that members have contacted banking authorities to determine if an organization handling international financial transfers broke data protection laws.

According to newspaper reports, the Brussels-based organization, the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Transactions, or SWIFT, opened up its banking records to US officials tracking terrorist funding.

The data transfer program between SWIFT and American authorities was set up after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in the United States but just became public last month.

Peter Schaar, who is the Federal Commissioner for Data Protection and the chair of the EU-wide group of data protection offices, said banking authorities are being asked to provide information about the extent of the program.

"Only when they have established a complete overview of the situation can a decision be made on what further measures to take," Schaar said in a statement, adding that all banking clients, regardless of their nationality or country of residence, have a right to know how their confidential information is handled.

His spokesman added that Germany's central bank, the Bundesbank, had been asked to response by July 31 on what it knew about the program.

Financial services giant

SWIFT's huge messaging system routes transactions worth about $6 trillion (4.7 trillion euros) a day through the global banking system. The US program, which was previously secret, taps into this in an attempt to reveal a money trail of terrorist funding.

The US has yet to confirm the program's existence, although the Bush administration has been extremely critical of media outlets for reporting on it, saying it could compromise the fight against terrorism. The US has said it will continue the program.

Critics have said it violates consumers' rights to keep their financial information confidential and is more of a "fishing exercise" than a targeted, legally authorized investigation.

SWIFT, which handles financial transfers for approximately 8,000 institutions in 20 countries, has said it only handed over information in response to US subpoenas after it received appropriate assurances of confidentiality.

DW staff (jam)

Deutsche Welle 08/2006

Homemade Bombs Found on German Railway

German federal prosecutors are investigating a possible terrorist link to two unexploded bombs discovered in Dortmund and Koblenz. The devices could have caused serious injury or death if they had exploded.

Germany's Federal Prosecutors Office in Karlsruhe said on Tuesday it was looking into two incidents, in which luggage with propane gas was found in the western German cities of Dortmund and Koblenz.

"Because of the proximity in time of the two discoveries of explosives, we are investigating an unknown perpetrator and possible membership of a terrorist group," the Federal Prosecutors Office said in a statement.

The authorities said they were still investigating whether the suitcase bombs had been similar to one another or were capable of detonating.

Abandoned suitcases contained the bombs

The railway station in the western city of Koblenz was evacuated Tuesday afternoon after lost-and-found staff noticed a gas canister inside a bag that had been handed in the previous day.

On Monday, bomb-disposal experts used water jets in the city of Dortmund to dismantle a suitcase containing a timer, propane gas and gasoline. A train conductor had found that suitcase Monday afternoon behind a seat on the lower deck of a double-decker train that shuttles a three-hour route between the cities of Aachen and Hamm.

The conductor handed the bag in to the lost-and-found office in the Dortmund train station, where staff called police after looking inside.

Prosecutors said the 11-liter (three-gallon) canister of propane gas and nearly five liters of gasoline inside could have injured or killed train passengers if it had exploded in a crowded wagon.

Motives still unclear

Dortmund police said they remained uncertain whether the device had actually been primed to go off. J├╝rgen Kleis, head of the team of detectives on the case, said in Dortmund that German police had never had a case like it and the first step would be to profile possible offenders.

The bomb construction was "professional" Kleis added.

"We can't rule out many possibilities based on our current investigations: a political motive, a criminal one or a private one," Kleis said.

Dortmund police were not even sure at what time of day the suitcase was left on the train, which had been on the move since dawn.

Last year a businessman, who had tried to extort money from a German bank, was jailed for 12 years for leaving a bag packed with explosives in Dresden railway station in mid-2003. His detonator malfunctioned and that bomb failed to explode as he had planned.

DW staff (sac)

Deutsche Welle 08/2006