US moves for "state secrets" privilege in the SWIFT case

By EDRi · September 12, 2007

The US Government has announced its intention to use the so called “state
secrets” privilege legal tool in order to stop the lawsuit against SWIFT
(Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication) that has
secretly disclosed millions of private financial records to CIA.

According to the Justice Department’ s statement during the recent court
filings, the lawsuit, initiated by US bank consumers against SWIFT, a
corporative company based in Belgium, on invasion-of-privacy grounds, might
disrupt the operations of a national security program and reveal highly
classified information. In a motion filed on 25 July 2007, the Justice
Department asked the court to throw out the suit in order to “preserve” the
program against financing terrorism and in order to “protect Swift from the
burden of further litigation here and minimize the likelihood that highly
classified information will be threatened.”

The lawsuit was expected to be put down in US as banking privacy laws are
laxer than in Europe but James F. Holderman, the chief judge in Federal
District Court in Chicago, in a June ruling, allowed the suit to proceed,
partly on grounds of claims of a Fourth Amendment violation and agreed to
move it to the federal court in Alexandria at the request of SWIFT lawyers.

The “state secrets” privilege, rarely used before Bush administration, has
been lately used in more than 30 terrorism-related cases and is a tool that
allows the government to halt litigations that pose a threat to national
security. The Bush Administration invoked the tool also to shut down various
lawsuits against telecommunications carriers over the National Security
Agency’s domestic eavesdropping program but the claim was rejected by a
Californian judge. A serious test of the privilege will be the result or
failure of the administration to invoke it in the SWIFT case.

The US Administration considers the banking data program as an important
tool in the fight against terrorism but privacy advocates and European
regulators consider the program as improper and even illegal.

The SWIFT case was considered by Steven E. Schwarz, a Chicago lawyer
representing the plaintiffs as “an Orwellian example of government
overreaching and unfettered access to private financial information that is
not consistent with the values upon which our country was founded.”

U.S. may invoke ‘state secrets’ to squelch suit against Swift (27.08.2007)

US Cites ‘Secrets’ Privilege as It Tries to Stop Suit on Banking Records

Bush may use privilege in Swift case (31.08.2007)

EDRI-gram: Article 29 Working Party expressed its opinion in the SWIFT case