US plans to allow spy agencies to monitor every citizen’s finances – report

Reuters / Heinz-Peter Bader
Reuters / Heinz-Peter Bader
Reuters / Heinz-Peter Bader

Washington is reportedly considering opening all US financial records to national intelligence agencies in order to prevent future crimes. Only the FBI has had unlimited access to such databases; other agencies had to file case-by-case requests.

The Obama administration is preparing legislation to enable the country’s numerous security and intelligence agencies to spy on the accounts of US citizens, Reuters has revealed. The scheme’s stated aim is to help to identify and track terrorist cells, expose money-laundering schemes, trace criminal syndicates and curb corruption.

“It’s a war on money, war on corruption, on politically exposed persons, anti-money laundering, organized crime,” Amit Kumar, the UN advisor on Taliban and a fellow at the Democrat-established Center for National Policy think tank told Reuters.

The plan, dated March 4, is in its early stages but appears to have no judicial obstacles, as US legislation does not prohibit the exchange of information between government bodies. However, human rights activists have already criticized the plan

The planning document obtained by Reuters that the US Treasury’s financial database, which previously was only fully accessible by the FBI, will soon be integrated with national criminal, intelligence and other databases  to become accessible to “law enforcement, counter-terrorism agencies, financial regulators and the intelligence community.”

Today, the US Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) does not only collect data on clients of financial institutions, it also gathers reports of so-called ‘suspicious client activity’.

An estimated 25,000 financial institutions operating inside US territory – like banks, money transfer agencies, securities dealers and casinos – are obliged to report any activity considered suspicious, such as large (over $10,000) cash transfers,  strangely account structures, computer hacking, counterfeiting and suspected money laundering.

The system is arranged so that if a bank is revealed to have not reported its clients’ suspicious activities, it risks of paying severe fines. Many banks err on the side of caution, and file reports on any activity deemed even slightly unusual: Every year, 15 million ‘suspicious activity reports’ are filed to the US Treasury, which allocates considerable resources to deal with them all.

If the Obama administration’s financial spy plan is enacted, US government agencies will have access to virtually all financial information on citizens or foreigners doing business in the US.

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