The Washington Post reported a few days ago that
[t]he Obama administration wants to require U.S. banks to report all electronic money transfers into and out of the country, a dramatic expansion in efforts to counter terrorist financing and money laundering. ...Yep, you got it right: The White House wants to be able to track every single dollar - or franc or pound or baht or rial or whatever - going in or out of the US with the avowed purpose of "establishing a centralized database" of transactions. They don't even claim that this will uncover terrorist plots or their financing, but rather that
Financial institutions are now required to report to the Treasury Department [cross-border] transactions in excess of $10,000 and others they deem suspicious. The new rule would require banks to disclose even the smallest transfers. [Emphasis added.]
the expanded financial data would allow anti-terrorist agencies to better understand normal money-flow patterns so they can spot abnormal activity.Uh-huh. So they should have access to all our trans-border financial activity just to "better understand normal flow." Because maybe that will help at some point in the future. And maybe they should also be allowed to search all our houses to "better understand normal furniture arrangements," the better to detect "abnormal" arrangements that could indicate the presence of contraband.
[C]ritics have called it part of a disturbing trend by government security agencies in the wake of the 2001 attacks to seek more access to personal data without adequately demonstrating its utility. Financial institutions say that they already feel burdened by anti-terrorism rules requiring them to provide data, and that they object to new ones. ...FinCEN is the Treasury Department's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network.
"This regulation is outrageous," said Peter Djinis, a lawyer who advises financial institutions on complying with financial rules and a former FinCEN executive assistant director for regulatory policy. "Consider me old-fashioned, but I believe you need to show some evidence of criminality before you are granted unfettered access to the private financial affairs of every individual and company that dares to conduct financial transactions overseas."
Djinis said he does not think the department has made a case that it could analyze such volumes of data effectively or needs so much raw data. "It's presumed that the information will be valuable in anti-terrorism activity," he said. "We're told, 'Trust us. Once we get the data, we'll determine what's legal or not.'"Indeed. "Trust us." That's what we always told every single time.
The plan would require money-transfer businesses such as Western Union to report transactions of $1,000 or more - that's some 750 million transfers a year. The feds want to store all that info and datamine it. And to make you feel even better: In addition to the name, address, and account number of both sender and recipient normally included with wire transfers and thus to be available to the government, the Obama proposal wants banks to obtain the Social Security numbers for all such senders and recipients and submit them to the government every year.
Don't you feel so secure now?
Thanks go to Marcy Wheeler for the link to the WaPo story.
Footnote: Earlier this year the US and the EU worked out an agreement that would allow European banks' financial-transaction data to be shared with US authorities for terrorist-finance tracking purposes - but in order to obtain the data, the US would need to substantiate the need.
But if the proposed rule goes into effect, transactions between European and U.S. banks would be captured regardless of whether there is a substantiated need.I'll bet.
Sophie in't Veld, a member of the European Parliament from the Netherlands, said lawmakers undertook "painstaking" negotiations to restrict the amount of financial data to which the United States would have access. "It seems they're getting it anyway," she said.
[FinCEN spokesman Steve] Hudak had no comment.