CIA monitors personal bank data of Irish citizens


The personal data of thousands of Irish citizens that have sent or received money transfers to and from the US has been covertly logged by US anti-terrorist agencies.

The Government did not know about the monitoring scheme, but several EU central banks were informed about the programme, which was introduced after the terrorist attacks on September 11th 2001. Under the scheme the CIA can sift through millions of international banking transactions to try to identify potential terrorist financing.

Yesterday the Belgian company at the centre of the intelligence gathering exercise confirmed that it had authorised the transfer of information to the CIA. The Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications (Swift), which provides a system linking 77 Irish financial institutions with international banks, said it had been ordered by the US to provide details on transactions made over its interbank system.

Every day 64,000 transactions made by Irish citizens or businesses are carried by Swift, which acts as a messaging intermediary for transmitting secure and confidential financial messages between 7,800 financial institutions worldwide that are members.

Most of the big Irish banks including AIB, Bank of Ireland, EBS, and National Irish Bank use the Swift system. Even the Irish Central Bank and the Irish Financial Services Authority uses the system to send messages between different banks.

The Belgian government has ordered an investigation into the covert transfer of personal data to the US authorities by Swift. Belgian prime minister Guy Verhofstadt said he first became aware of the programme when the New York Times newspaper broke the story last Friday. A report prepared by the Belgian central bank and given to the Belgian authorities yesterday highlights that it and 10 other central banks in the EU and abroad were informed about the scheme. It did not inform the government.

The Irish Central Bank yesterday would neither confirm nor deny whether it had been informed about the CIA monitoring programme. In a statement that bank said oversight of the Swift system rested with the National Bank of Belgium and the G10 central banks, of which it was not a member.

An adviser to the Irish data protection commissioner, Seán Sweeney, said the supply of information to the US would not pose a data protection difficulty provided that it was subject to an appropriate legal instrument such as an international convention or a mutual assistance agreement. But he said he was not aware of any legal provision that would permit direct access to Irish bank records by the US.