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Ear to the Ground

Spy Agencies to Have Access to Your Finances

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Posted on Mar 15, 2013
moriza (CC BY 2.0)

The Obama administration plans to give all U.S. intelligence agencies full access to a database that contains information on the financial activity of American citizens and others who bank in the country, a Treasury Department document seen by Reuters says.

The expressed purpose of the plan is to give spy agencies greater power to work together to identify and hunt terrorist groups and crime syndicates, looking for “patterns that could reveal attack plots or criminal schemes,” Reuters reports. It would bring together financial databanks, criminal records and military intelligence.

The document is dated March 4. It shows that the proposal is still in its early stages, but does not say when it could be implemented.

The database is known as the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN). The FBI has full access already. Before the plan, intelligence agencies would have to make requests on a case-by-case basis.

Some legal experts say the plan is permissible under U.S. law, but public advocacy groups are concerned that the extended powers would harm the public. At best, the privacy of Americans guilty of no crime would be violated, while at worst, the system would be exploited to create excuses to bring political enemies under state control, helping to build cases that a group or individual is connected to a terrorist group and thus eligible to be detained indefinitely under the National Defense Authorization Act, or even killed by a drone.

Such concern is further justified because financial firms, which consist of more than 25,000 banks, securities dealers, casinos, and money and wire transfer firms, file more than 15 million “suspicious activity reports” to the Treasury every year. And in many cases the filings are routine. Banks are required to report all personal cash transactions exceeding $10,000. And they often over-report so “they cannot be accused of failing to disclose activity that later proves questionable,” Reuters notes. This guarantees that the financial details of ordinary citizens have ended up in the hands of spy agencies already.

—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

Reuters via Newsmax:

Some privacy watchdogs expressed concern about the plan when Reuters outlined it to them.

A move like the FinCEN proposal “raises concerns as to whether people could find their information in a file as a potential terrorist suspect without having the appropriate predicate for that and find themselves potentially falsely accused,” said Sharon Bradford Franklin, senior counsel for the Rule of Law Program at the Constitution Project, a nonprofit watchdog group.

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