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Intersection: Sidewalks & Public Space

Chapter by Melissa Ngo

"The Myth of Security Under Camera Surveillance"


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    Reuters: U.S. plans to let spy agencies scour Americans’ finances

    Reuters has an exclusive report that says the United States government plans to give its spy agencies access to a database containing the finances of Americans and others who use U.S. banks:

    The Obama administration is drawing up plans to give all U.S. spy agencies full access to a massive database that contains financial data on American citizens and others who bank in the country, according to a Treasury Department document seen by Reuters. [...]

    The plan, which legal experts say is permissible under U.S. law, is nonetheless likely to trigger intense criticism from privacy advocates.

    Financial institutions that operate in the United States are required by law to file reports of “suspicious customer activity,” such as large money transfers or unusually structured bank accounts, to Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN).

    The Federal Bureau of Investigation already has full access to the database. However, intelligence agencies, such as the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency, currently have to make case-by-case requests for information to FinCEN.

    The Treasury plan would give spy agencies the ability to analyze more raw financial data than they have ever had before, helping them look for patterns that could reveal attack plots or criminal schemes.

    The planning document, dated March 4, shows that the proposal is still in its early stages of development, and it is not known when implementation might begin. [...]

    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 non-profit watchdog group. [...]

    More than 25,000 financial firms – including banks, securities dealers,┬ácasinos, and money and wire transfer agencies – routinely file “suspicious activity reports” to FinCEN. The requirements for filing are so strict that banks often over-report, so they cannot be accused of failing to disclose activity that later proves questionable. This over-reporting raises the possibility that the financial details of ordinary citizens could wind up in the hands of spy agencies.

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