EU Companies Fear U.S. Espionage

In the name of terror prevention, Washington is allegedly spying on European bank transactions. Are there less-justifiable motives?

European companies are increasingly concerned that the US, which is allegedly spying on EU cross-border bank transfers as part of its fight against terror, is also doing this in order to obtain economic data. It recently emerged that the private Belgian company SWIFT, which manages international payments in the EU, has handed over data to Washington.

The head of German industry association Ludolf von Wartenberg told Handelsblatt "we hear from many sides that these data can also be used for economic espionage."

SWIFT, which stands for the "Society for Worldwide Inter-bank Financial Telecommunications" was thrust into the limelight when the New York Times last month reported that officials from the CIA, the FBI and other US agencies had since 2001 been allowed to inspect transfers.

The standardised SWIFT transfer format contains the names of the transferral and the receiver, the account number and bank address, as well as the amount and the intended purpose.

The transfer data can therefore give information about prices, supply and customer information.

A high-ranking German manager of a US company told Handelsblatt "A top manager of a world company with strategic importance for the USA must assume that he and his company are scrutinised by the US authorities."

Last week the European Parliament requested the European central bank (ECB) to make clear its knowledge of the affair, while also saying CIA snooping "could give rise to large-scale forms of economic and industrial espionage."

MEPs said they would organise a hearing with the ECB, in order to find out the exact role of the bank in the secret agreement between SWIFT and the US government.

US concession on anti-terror

Meanwhile in Washington, the US administration has decided on a major policy change in its fight against terrorism.

Washington will make all detainees held by the US military entitled to protection under the Geneva Conventions � which prohibits inhumane treatment of prisoners and requires certain basic legal rights at trial � reports the Financial Times.

Since 2002 members of al-Qaeda and the Taliban did not qualify for Geneva protection by the US military because the war on terrorism had ushered the need for a new law of war, US president George Bush outlined four years ago.

The move comes after the US Supreme Court ruled last month that the military commissions of Mr Bush created to try prisoners at Guantanamo Bay contravened both US law and the Geneva Convention.

The court said Mr Bush's administration had exceeded its authority in constituting the controversial commissions, concluding that they did not offer defendants sufficient legal rights.

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