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Rights group complains

BRUSSELS -- A human rights group in London said yesterday that it had lodged complaints in 32 countries against a banking consortium in Brussels, contending that it violated European and Asian data protection rules by providing the United States with confidential information about international money transfers.

Simon Davies, director of Privacy International, said the organization filed the complaints with the data protection authorities to halt what it called ``illegal transfers" of private information by the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications, or Swift.

``Swift appears to have violated data protection rules in Europe," Davies said.

The Bush administration has defended the program as a crucial element against terrorism, but Europe and the United States are increasingly at odds over how to protect civil liberties .

Yesterday, the European Parliament's center-right European People's Party, its largest and most influential grouping, called for the EU to open an inquiry into the legality of Swift's actions. Thomas Bickl, a spokesman for the party, said it was concerned the transfers had been made as part of a covert and untransparent operation.

Separately, the Council of Europe, the human rights watchdog in Strasbourg, renewed its criticism yesterday of the United States' alleged abductions of terrorism suspects in Europe .

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