by Steve Schwarz
Wed Jun 20th, 2007 at 12:53:16 AM EST
Hello, I am plaintiffs' counsel in Walker v. SWIFT, a U.S. lawsuit challenging SWIFT's disclosure of its database to the U.S. government as illegal under the Fourth Amendment and federal Right to Financial Privacy Act.
SWIFT, which stands for "Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication", is a giant corporation based in Belgium and is the nerve center of the global financial industry.
Last June the New York Times revealed that the U.S. Treasury Department and CIA approached SWIFT and asked for customer financial records in a manner outside the legal process. SWIFT responded by giving the government its entire database. The original article can be viewed here:
I posted this diary on Daily Kos and was encouraged to post it here as well. A press release follows:
Contact: Steven Schwarz (773-837-6134)
Carl Mayer (609-462-7979)
Bruce Afran (609-924-2075)
For Immediate Release: June 15, 2007
Federal Court in Chicago rules against SWIFT in domestic bank spying case.
Bank clearinghouse fails in bid to dismiss class action charging violation of bank privacy laws
No government right to "unfettered access" to private bank records, court rules
SWIFT Facing Billions in Damages
Chicago (June 15, 2007). A federal district court has upheld a multi-billion dollar class action against SWIFT, the international bank clearinghouse, for secretly sharing customers' bank records with the U.S. government in violation of bank privacy laws.
Lawyers today announced that Chief Judge James F. Holderman of U.S. District Court in Chicago refused this week to dismiss claims that SWIFT's disclosure of millions of bank records to the government violated the federal Right to Financial Privacy Act and the Fourth Amendment.
In his 20-page opinion, Judge Holderman rejected SWIFT's defense that it acted in good faith by relying on government subpoenas. Any claim to "unfettered government access to the bank records of private citizens" is "constitutionally problematic", the court said.
In refusing to dismiss the case, Judge Holderman noted reports that "SWIFT officials were aware that their disclosures were legally suspect, but they nevertheless continued to supply database information to the U.S. government."
Plaintiffs Ian Walker and Stephen Kruse filed the massive class action last June, seeking billions in federal privacy damages, after the New York Times reported the administration had been requesting, and receiving, customer financial records from SWIFT without judicial authorization and limited Congressional oversight.
The plaintiffs are represented by Chicago attorney Steven Schwarz and New Jersey attorneys Bruce Afran, and Carl Mayer. The three are also among the leaders in the pending NSA phone records suit in San Francisco.
"The SWIFT program is another example of reckless disregard for the Constitution and values that make us who we are as a nation," Schwarz said in response to Judge Holderman's ruling. "As Benjamin Franklin said, `those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.' "
"Never has any U.S. administration sanctioned such wide-ranging violations of privacy rights," Afran added. "This is yet another decision recognizing the illegality of the administration's domestic spy program."
SWIFT, the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, based in Brussels, is the nerve center of the global banking industry and routes about $6 trillion daily between banks, brokerages, stock exchanges and other institutions. The complaint charges SWIFT with disclosing its entire database to the United States Government without subpoena or court authority.
"SWIFT faces billions in damages after this week's ruling," Mayer said. "Federal bank privacy laws provide for $100 in damages for each illegal disclosure of customer records."
SWIFT's actions have been widely condemned overseas by privacy watchdogs in Germany, Belgium, France, and the European Union where some regulators have declared SWIFT's conduct to be in violation of their countries' privacy laws.
The decision comes as the Senate Judiciary Committee announced it will pursue long-hidden Justice Department memos authorizing the National Security Agency's "Terrorist Surveillance Program".
In August of 2006 federal judge Anna Diggs Taylor declared that program illegal and ordered it to be immediately halted.
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