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U.S. Cites Secrets Privilege to Stop Suit on Banking Records
Key Excerpts from Article on Website of New York Times

New York Times, August 31, 2007
Posted: September 6th, 2007

The Bush administration ... plans to turn again to a legal tool, the state secrets privilege, to try to stop a suit against a Belgian banking cooperative [known as Swift] that secretly supplied millions of private financial records to the United States government. The state secrets privilege, allowing the government to shut down litigation on national security grounds, was once rarely used. The Bush administration has turned to it more than 30 times, seeking to end public discussion of cases like the claims of an F.B.I. whistle-blower and the abduction of a German terrorism suspect. Most notably, the administration has sought to use the privilege to kill numerous suits against telecommunications carriers over the National Security Agencys eavesdropping program. Swift is considered the nerve center of the global banking industry, routing trillions of dollars each day among banks, brokerage houses and other financial institutions. Its partnership with Washington ... gave Central Intelligence Agency and Treasury Department officials access to millions of records on international banking transactions. Months after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Swift began turning over large chunks of its database in response to a series of unusually broad subpoenas from the Treasury Department. Two American banking customers ... sued Swift on invasion-of-privacy grounds. [Steven E. Schwarz, the lawyer for the plaintiffs, said the Swift program] is 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. Weve seen a real erosion of the state secrets privilege in the last year. I think it is from overuse. Weve seen it used in record numbers, in situations where it was inappropriate, and the courts are starting to recognize that.

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