Massive Government Data Mining of Financial Records

money-4a.jpgApparently, warrantless wiretapping and gathering of phone call records just aren’t enough to quench the Bush Administration’s thirst for data. Now we learn that the government has gathered massive quantities of financial records. The New York Times reports:

Under a secret Bush administration program initiated weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks, counterterrorism officials have gained access to financial records from a vast international database and examined banking transactions involving thousands of Americans and others in the United States, according to government and industry officials.

The program is limited, government officials say, to tracing transactions of people suspected of having ties to Al Qaeda by reviewing records from the nerve center of the global banking industry, a Belgian cooperative that routes about $6 trillion daily between banks, brokerages, stock exchanges and other institutions. The records mostly involve wire transfers and other methods of moving money overseas and into and out of the United States. Most routine financial transactions confined to this country are not in the database.

Viewed by the Bush administration as a vital tool, the program has played a hidden role in domestic and foreign terrorism investigations since 2001 and helped in the capture of the most wanted Qaeda figure in Southeast Asia, the officials said.

The program, run out of the Central Intelligence Agency and overseen by the Treasury Department, “has provided us with a unique and powerful window into the operations of terrorist networks and is, without doubt, a legal and proper use of our authorities,” Stuart Levey, an under secretary at the Treasury Department, said in an interview on Thursday.

The program is grounded in part on the president’s emergency economic powers, Mr. Levey said, and multiple safeguards have been imposed to protect against any unwarranted searches of Americans’ records. . . .

That access to large amounts of confidential data was highly unusual, several officials said, and stirred concerns inside the administration about legal and privacy issues.

“The capability here is awesome or, depending on where you’re sitting, troubling,” said one former senior counterterrorism official who considers the program valuable. While tight controls are in place, the official added, “the potential for abuse is enormous.”

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6 Responses

  1. Paul Gowder says:

    You realize we’re doomed, right? They’re never going to give up this power. Even after the Bush Administration is nothing but a bad nightmare and a story parents tell their misbehaving children, the government will still hold on to its surveillance power. Welcome to the security state.

  2. shadowmancer says:

    You ever get that feeling that what you’re doing is too little, too late? Yeah, that’s how I’m feeling after reading that…

  3. Matt Bodie says:

    Interesting to see other blogospheric reactions. Orin Kerr: “My initial reaction to this is that it sounds legal to me (and also a pretty good idea).” Julian Ku: “My initial reaction is that what the NYT and WSJ has mostly accomplished is to render this program essentially useless by revealing its existence to potential terrorists.”

  4. Humble Law Student says:

    Great kneejerk liberal response!

    As Professor Kerr and others have pointed out, it is likely perfectly legal.

    Plus, the NY Times article even acknowledges that it is an IMPORTANT part of our counterterrorism efforts.

    You libs claim you want us to defeat terrorists. You also argue that we shouldn’t do so by invading other countries, or treating it as a “war.” But instead, some type of crime or police problem.

    Yet you deny the goverment any method to combat terrorism! And in this case, decry a perfectly reasonable and legal method for going after the critical part of terrorism – the money.

    You all are either mindless in your hatred towards Bush or you really don’t care if the US wins.

    Sorry, but this liberal “outrage” is the truly outrageous thing…

  5. “Now we learn that the government has gathered massive quantities of financial records.”

    Of course, they do this every April – it’s called the Federal Income Tax; whereby businesses report, using government-assigned identifying information, exactly how much money was transferred between parties over the past year. Then the government requires most of its citizenry to report more financial information as well as a current address, phone numbers and identifying information on family members. If you gave money or other property to charities, the government wants to know which charities and how much. Much of this information may later be shared with state and local governments.

    In another oft-praised government program, if you give money to political campaigns, the government wants to know exactly how much and to which campaigns you gave. ‘Cauise, you know, too much spending of your own money in this manner could be a problem. This information will then be made available online for one and all to see.

    …but it’s this anti-terrorist program that’s got many of you all worked up….interesting

  6. ColoradoMSG says:

    Man, it’s funny how comments came to a screeeching halt once a couple of level headed people finally made some freakin’ sense of this. Way to slap ’em around Maryland Conservative and Humble Law Student. Now we truly see who the enlightened ones are, LOL!