Spy agencies to be granted access to US citizen finances

The financial data of American citizens is set to be open season for spy agencies as the fight against terrorism and cybercrime continues.
Written by Charlie Osborne, Contributing Writer
Credit: CBS News

Should intelligence agencies in the United States have unrestricted access to the banking details of U.S. citizens? The federal government believes so.

According to Reuters, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and National Security Agency (NSA) may one day soon have the ability to access a central database which records and contains financial transactions made by American citizens — something that only law enforcement agencies have had unbridled access to.

The publication says that the Obama Administration is currently drafting a set of proposals as part of a plan to give intelligence agencies access to this data in the name of tracking "suspicious" transactions, which are reported to take place approximately 15 million times per year, according to banking information.

The database is part of the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), a bureau of the U.S. Department of the Treasury. Created in 1990, the bureau uses data and reports submitted by financial bodies to try and combat money laundering and fraud — as well as find those who finance "terrorist" activity. Any transaction above $10,000 in value is documented, and over 25,000 financial institutions currently file reports to the network.

However, privacy advocates have pointed out that as regulations for filing is so strict, organizations often "overfile" just to be sure they have met governmental requirements — which means there is a possibility that the financial lives of ordinary citizens could wind up in the hands of intelligence agencies.

Sharon Bradford Franklin, senior counsel for the Rule of Law Program at the Constitution Project, told Reuters that concerns have been raised "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."

Currently, both the CIA and NSA must make individual case requests to access this database. However, under the new proposals, FinCEN would become connected with the Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System — a network which holds classified information shared between law enforcement agencies — and so access to financial data would no longer hold any restrictions.

The plans are still in early stages, and it is not yet known when — and if — these measures will eventually come into play.

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