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U.S. Secretly Tapping Bank Databases 537

Posted by timothy
from the bank-secrecy-is-a-good-idea-all-year-'round dept.
The Washington Post and New York Times are reporting on a Bush administration initiative that has tapped into a vast global database of confidential financial transactions for nearly five years. Relying on a presidential emergency declaration made under the International Emergency Economic Powers, the administration has been surveilling the data from the SWIFT database, which links about 7,800 banks and brokerages and handles billions of transactions a year. From the article:
Together with a hundredfold expansion of the FBI's use of "national security letters" to obtain communications and banking records, the secret NSA and Treasury programs have built unprecedented government databases of private transactions, most of them involving people who prove irrelevant to terrorism investigators.
The NYTimes goes on to say that the joint CIA-Treasury 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. Still, the access to large amounts of confidential data was highly unusual, and concerns were raised about legal and privacy issues.
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U.S. Secretly Tapping Bank Databases

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  • Wow (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 24, 2006 @08:23AM (#15595699)
    Folks -- if they don't have enough intelligence to invade the right country then I doubt they have enough intelligence to monitor bank records. They can't even manage to look after their own federal spending, why do they need to look after mine?
    • Re: Wow (Score:3, Informative)

      by Black Parrot (19622)
      > Folks -- if they don't have enough intelligence to invade the right country then I doubt they have enough intelligence to monitor bank records.

      One of the sad ironies in all this is that they probably would have seen 911 coming if they didn't have to filter out so many details as the reports of the field officers work their way up the organizational tree.
      • Re: Wow (Score:4, Insightful)

        by cluckshot (658931) on Saturday June 24, 2006 @10:40AM (#15596196)

        They are not fools. (Mods if you don't like the truth just comment against it or get a life) The guys who are doing this monitoring have a full plan to monitor all data that can be collected on every person on the earth. I know this because I have read the Requests for Proposals from the various agencies involved. There can be only one logical conclusion of this effort. These guys want to establish a world wide Gestapo or SS. They intend to do so with impunity. They will do just as the NAZI's did, and cover their mafactor status as being "anti-terrorist".

        For those who don't believe this just test a few facts. These people know full well that Al Qaeda doesn't use the modern banking system. These people know full well that their efforts have little or no effect on Al Qaeda. At the same time these people refuse to do border enforcement or any of the requested security measures already law in the USA which would protect the people from real terrorism. Where for example is the phone number where a US Citizen may call and have an illegal or undesirable alien (One who is acting badly for those who don't understand) promptly and properly dealt with under law. Where I live, if I call the Sheriff I may see an officer in 1 hour or so depending on the time of day. If I called about a real live Al Qaeda member to the US Border Patrol or ICE the call would never be responded to. There are only 65 ICE agents actually empowered to make arrests in the USA as a whole. Surely this tells the truth about the real intent here. It is pretty undeniable.

        What is developing is obvious in another arena. George Bush has not issued a single Veto since he became president. This is because his treasure trove of info arrived at by this nefarious means that he couches as "Anti-Terrorist Efforts" actually is used as extortion against US Senators and Representatives who dare vote against his plans. This is why all measures always pass with at least a minimal margin no matter what. He doesn't care to eliminate the Congress as he controls it by this means.

        My US Senator Jeff Sessions has come under serious pressure trying to destroy his career as a US Senator because he spoke up against the Immigration lies that were being spread. The cost he has paid has been very high. In an election he will face the Republican Party Machine trying to destroy his reputation and take away the money from contributors. Supposing you dare contribute a significant amount of money, you may find your business contracts with the government suspended if you have any. You may find your reputation destroyed by the data they developed in this mass spying effort. The senator himself will find every detail of his life made public to try to ruin him.

        This is a direct threat to the very existence of a free people and a freely elected government. It makes the President of the United States of America and his team the chief terrorists in the world. It makes without doubt the danger very high. This is why we in the USA live in a continual state of "Terrorist Alerts" and other mechanisms designed to keep us sturred up and always afraid. This paranoid state they have us living in is making the whole world think we are insane. The fact of our sanity being in question because of this is becoming all of the discussion around the world. These people are up to no good in the White House. DO NOT MARK me as part of those who oppose the Republican Party generally. I support and go to meetings. I am a long standing life long Republican. These men in the White House only claim to be Republicans. I know most decent Republicans oppose what is going on.

        What for example have they done to Preserve Protect or Defend the Constitution of the United States of America? (Their oath of office) I am a supporter of a strong America and I definitely support the efforts to put down Islamic Radical Terrorism. The efforts of these people are giving aid and comfort to the enemies of America at time of war. Yes their actions are TREASONA

        • Re: Wow (Score:5, Informative)

          by SillyNickName4me (760022) <dotslash@bartsplace.net> on Saturday June 24, 2006 @11:37AM (#15596381) Homepage
          First of all, I do agree about the danger you are warning against, but I also think you are not entirely appreciating that you fell into the trap yourself as well.

          For those who don't believe this just test a few facts. These people know full well that Al Qaeda doesn't use the modern banking system. These people know full well that their efforts have little or no effect on Al Qaeda. At the same time these people refuse to do border enforcement or any of the requested security measures already law in the USA which would protect the people from real terrorism. Where for example is the phone number where a US Citizen may call and have an illegal or undesirable alien (One who is acting badly for those who don't understand) promptly and properly dealt with under law. Where I live, if I call the Sheriff I may see an officer in 1 hour or so depending on the time of day. If I called about a real live Al Qaeda member to the US Border Patrol or ICE the call would never be responded to. There are only 65 ICE agents actually empowered to make arrests in the USA as a whole. Surely this tells the truth about the real intent here. It is pretty undeniable.

          If you actually look at the 9/11 attacks as well as to other similar situations, you'll find that the only terrorists you are going to catch at the border are those trying to flee the country afterward, and even that is extremely unlikely. You'd also see that those who planned and executed the attacks were not illegal foreigners. Hence, similar to the situation you pointed out yourself, such actions would have virtually zero effect on terrorism.

          All the screaming and arguing about illegal immigrants is really yet another way to divert attention away from what is really happening.
        • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 24, 2006 @12:16PM (#15596513)

          ...I think he's paranoid too.

          But answer me this: what part of what he describes would be difficult for the USA government to do? Is it a good idea to simply let them have the power to do these things and assume they'll never exercise it?

          • by Civil_Disobedient (261825) on Saturday June 24, 2006 @01:44PM (#15596870)
            Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't out to get you.
            • by TubeSteak (669689) on Saturday June 24, 2006 @10:56PM (#15598838) Journal
              What is developing is obvious in another arena. George Bush has not issued a single Veto since he became president. This is because his treasure trove of info arrived at by this nefarious means that he couches as "Anti-Terrorist Efforts" actually is used as extortion against US Senators and Representatives who dare vote against his plans. This is why all measures always pass with at least a minimal margin no matter what. He doesn't care to eliminate the Congress as he controls it by this means.
              Ummm, there's paranoia and then there's accusing the President of using "his treasure trove of info arrived at by this nefarious means" to extort Senators and Congresspeople to vote his way.

              1. Bush has written stacks of signing statements that are even better than vetos, since Congress & Senate don't get to revote on signing statements.

              2. The Republicans have a slim (1 person) majority in the Senate, and a semi-slim (12 person) majority in the House. This may be why certain bills that do pass, pass by a slim majority.

              3. Not all of Bush's great ideas get turned into law. Constitutional Amendment on gay marriage, Harriet Miers for Supreme Court, Bush's immigration plans, and so on

              Maybe some of cluckshot's rambling is factual and relevant, but seriously, it's just riddled with crap.
          • AFAICT, he's understating the situation. The nazi link, e.g., is not merely by methodological similarity, but also because some very high level nazi's made deals at the time of the surrender...and some of them went to work on for the agnecy that later became the CIA. (Nazism was dead...and they were experienced anti-communists... over time they worked their way up in the ranks.)

            A "secret police" is a very dangerous (and necessary?) part of government. They are rather like an immune system that way. If the design isn't perfect, they are likely to attack the organism that produced them. (Well, that analogy is stretect further than it can stand. Unlike an immune system, secret police forces are capable of "owning" thier own resources out of sight of their controllers...and that can cause them to act quite independently, and without much concern for their putative parent body.)

            My personal preference would be to have a less powerful "secret police" even at the cost of allowing some "disease organisms" to slip in, but this is clearly a matter of degree. More careful oversight is another important consideration...but who will watch the watchers? Corruption is a historical habit of human organizations.
          • by radtea (464814) on Saturday June 24, 2006 @03:21PM (#15597282)
            Is it a good idea to simply let them have the power to do these things and assume they'll never exercise it?

            No. It is a fundamental law of human behaviour: All power gets used.

            If you grant power to someone that power will eventually be used. History suggests sooner rather than later. Things you'd think would never happen in a million years have a way of being done well ahead of schedule. And any power will be used to the benefit of the people wielding it unless there are obvious negative consequences in doing so. Secret power is absolute power, because it can be used for anything with no consequences to the wielders.

            And for anyone still using the "you have nothing to worry about if you've done nothing wrong" line, I would like to point out that that line requires assuming that the organs of the state Never Make Mistakes. Good luck with that.
        • Re: Wow (Score:3, Insightful)

          by rolfwind (528248)
          I used to have Republican tendencies too until I recognized the neocons in office have no financially conservative (read: responsible) goals in mind but are spenders at heart. I'm not democrat either because they are the flip side of the coin and are 98% the same, now I only support Independents who aren't career politicians. Like Jesse Ventura. That guy showed Independents can win.

          But I agree with you, it's sad how this administration uses 9/11 and "terrah" as the excuse for everything that has nothing
        • Re: Wow (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Memnos (937795) on Saturday June 24, 2006 @01:40PM (#15596840) Journal
          The parent comment brings up some salient points. I unfortunately believe that his/her points only tangentially address the real problems we face now. Our nation and most importantly our government is showing all of the signs of age, as in biological age. It no longer functions effectively, but that is among the least of our problems, because the intent of Adams and Jefferson was that it would not. However, the problem is that is does not function effectively in representing the body politic. That was never intended. Our government was intended by those who wrote the Constitution ("Oh God, not that pain in the ass document again" as many in the Legislative and Executive branches say) to be inefficient in imposing its will on the populace. Back to aging, our society and culture seems to have bought into the idea that everything will be fine if only someone ELSE can take care of it for us. We are far too risk-averse, and on our way to proving Ben Franklin's quote about trading liberty for security true in the worst way. It is us, as a people, who bear the burden of responsibility for this. And it can bring us to our collective knees if it does not do us worse. My family came to this country long ago (about 175 years) and I cannot imagine my Grandparents, to say nothing of my Great-Grandparents, standing by and letting our rights be chivvied away as they are now. But the fact is that we do. More specifically, in the future we are going to face increasing encroachments on our right to be left alone, because of a fundamental flaw in jurisprudence. We can only expect privacy if it is "reasonable" in the current societal context, and with technology marching on, reasonable privacy is an ever shrinking circle. Could you imagine in the last century that you could not expect privacy in your own back yard. Well now Predator drones are flying overhead, so you cannot. It will go much farther than this. My bitch about this is done for now. I would only quote from one more free than I: "Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their quick brown foxes running over lazy dogs and jumping away to the aid of their party." If we do not wake up and take the phrase "by the people and for the people" seriously, then we deserve what we get. I can find work anywhere, so what I'll do, if all is lost, is get away from this national and cultural self-destruction. Best of luck to the rest of you.
      • Re: Wow (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Ash Vince (602485) on Saturday June 24, 2006 @10:41AM (#15596198) Journal
        The CIA and NSA did see 911 coming.

        It's just that if it had not happened then the US public wouldn't have been so tolerant of their own sons and daughters dieing in countries like Afganistan and Iraq while trying to secure the rest of the worlds oil reserves.

        In Afganistan they wanted to build a pipeline that the taliban never would have agreed to. In Iraq, well the largest oil field in the world speaks for itself.

        Just look at what was happening to US defense expenditure before 911. It was going down as the majority of the population realised that there was no big bad communist Russia to fight anymore so there was no need for aircraft carriers and nuclear subs.

        Now we have terrorists, an enemy who can never go bust like Russia did. And if you kill a terrorist, 10 more just spring up their place. It is a war the US can never win. Which obviously suits the people who make from money from war by selling defense equipment to the US govt.

        The NSA and CIA let planes crash into the twin towers and that conveniently empty (for redecoration apparantly) wing of the pentagon. They did this as they knew it would result in massive increase in their budgets.

        And before you dismiss this as a troll, just think what you might ignore if you were looking at redundancy from somewhere you had worked for 20 years. From a career you enjoyed, possibly with no other hope of employment in the same field. After all, who hires people with a 20 year gap on their CV which they are not allowed to discuss for reasons of national security.

        If all I had to do to protect it was look the other way briefly, I might just do it if I had a wife and 3 kids to support.

        But herein lies the problem, the people on the other side are more desperate the we are. Most of Iraq has a much lower standard of living than the US, the population is on the edge of starvation, disease is rife and on top of that the country is a war zone where you might just catch a stray bullet or bit of shrapnel and die. Now on top of that only thing your country has of value to trade with (oil) is in the hands of foriegn companies (the only ones with the expertise to extract it) who are allied with the foriegn invaders. Try putting yourself in this position and think of how determined you might be to throw those foriegn invaders out.

        But my final point is more disturbing than all of this. We now NEED the CIA and NSA. We need them to stop some super pissed of terrorist obtaining a nuclear device from Pakistan (Definately have nukes unlike Iran) or Iran (Maybe have nukes but definately dont like us) and blowing us up with it. All they have to do is smuggle the nuke onto a plane bound for the US from some third world country.
    • Re:Wow (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Doc Ruby (173196) on Saturday June 24, 2006 @01:29PM (#15596794) Homepage Journal
      They had the intelligence, and the power to cherrypick, to invade the country, Iraq, that was right for them. The Bush administration is the Iran/Contra administration [wikipedia.org] . All these people made their bones in the 1980s CIA/NSA cocaine [google.com] and guns [google.com] conspiracy [google.com]. That hijacked American foreign policy to wage secret wars in Central America [google.com]. To raise money for secret wars elsewhere, like in Africa [google.com], and Osama bin Laden's Afghanistan [google.com]. With secret Saudi funding and Iranian funding. As seed money for robbing the Savings and Loans of over a $TRILLION [google.com] (in 1980s dollars: our GDP was 1/4 what it is today).

      These same people, like Poindexter, [google.com]Negroponte [google.com], Bolton [google.com] and so many others, wrench our country into invading Iraq to the [google.com]benefit of Saudi Arabia and Iran [google.com], giving the NSA and CIA powers previously forbidden [google.com] by our constititional democratic republic. While spying on all Americans [google.com] for the political power that ensures their corporate backers will make all the money they want, forever.

      They're pulling it off. As measured by $TRILLIONS in profits [google.com] and unlimited power [google.com], killing thousands around the world and leaving our country to rot. How can we possibly deny that they're smart, that they're doing it all on purpose, that it's malice, even evil, that is driving all their actions? Because the truth is too much to admit, especially since we like to believe what we see in the media: the Republican government works for us, not themselves and their corporate masters.
  • by Manip (656104) on Saturday June 24, 2006 @08:24AM (#15595703)
    Does anyone else worry that the USA might use its intelligent services to give its corporate entities an advantage over foreign ones?

    If they use the information purely to look for money laundering or terrorism then that's cool, it would be 99% automated anyway... Looking for patterns and the like... But what if the security services use that information to give helpful hints to US companies over the international counterparts? Is that fair?

    We are talking about large amounts of money, and most of us know that money can lead people to act less than morally, so it isn't a far stretch to believe that they might do that... Even be authorised to do that.
    • by houghi (78078) on Saturday June 24, 2006 @09:03AM (#15595812)
      Does anyone else worry that the USA might use its intelligent services to give its corporate entities an advantage over foreign ones?


      It already happend. Echelon was used to get Boeing an advatage over Airbus.

      http://www.converge.org.nz/pma/sislock.htm [converge.org.nz]
      http://www.meta-religion.com/Secret_societies/Cons piracies/Echelon/echelon.htm [meta-religion.com]
      http://www.fas.org/irp/news/2000/07/irp-000724-ech elon.htm [fas.org]
      http://tinyurl.com/zuxan [tinyurl.com] (google link)
      • by Anonymous Coward
        That's interesting.

        So, out of curiosity, is that worse or better than subsidizing the company so it can artificially price itself into the market to try to steal contracts? You know.... like Airbus and the European Union does?
        • by Tx (96709) on Saturday June 24, 2006 @09:47AM (#15595988) Journal
          Oh, come on. We all know that the US government subsidizes Boeing and the like through military contracts and the like, so get off your frigging high horse. At least in Europe we're up front about subsidies, rather than the hypocritical US position of paying lip service to free market principles, while being protectionist as hell in reality.
      • by Puls4r (724907)
        OH, you're so right. After a little researh....

        ""In one," the article stated, "Airbus Industrie, the jet-liner consortium, lost out on a six billion dollar sale to Saudi Arabia after U.S authorities alerted Saudi authorities that Airbus was offering bribes." America's Boeing got the job. "

        FOR SHAME. BAD US. BAD BAD BAD....

        Errr, or not.
    • by bwd (936324)
      Scared that the US might do it? That is standard practice in countries like France who use their intelligence services to pass information directly to French corporations.
  • by Lobo (10944) on Saturday June 24, 2006 @08:25AM (#15595704) Homepage
    The fact that this is happening or the fact that this does not surprise me anymore. Every election year I tell myself I'll vote with my conscious and vote Libertarian. Screw that, I just want these f***ers OUT now.
    • considering the vulnerabilities of those Dibold voting machines do you think voting does any good anymore? i sure dont...

      http://www.blackboxvoting.org/ [blackboxvoting.org] http://it.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=03/11/15/154 5222 [slashdot.org]
    • by I am Jack's username (528712) on Saturday June 24, 2006 @09:39AM (#15595943)
      The fact that this is happening or the fact that this does not surprise me anymore. Every election year I tell myself I'll vote with my conscious and vote Libertarian. Screw that, I just want these f***ers OUT now.
      - Lobo (10944)

      I can understand how people who agree with the Democratic/Republican platforms can vote for them - I fundamentally disagree with their platforms, but I know lots of folk think it's a-okay.

      I can understand people who who've never even compared the platforms of the other parties voting Democrat/Republican:

      "On its world, the people are people. The leaders are lizards. The people hate the lizards and the lizards rule the people."

      "Odd," said Arthur, "I thought you said it was a democracy."

      "I did," said ford. "It is."

      "So," said Arthur, hoping he wasn't sounding ridiculously obtuse, "why don't the people get rid of the lizards?"

      "It honestly doesn't occur to them," said Ford. "They've all got the vote, so they all pretty much assume that the government they've voted in more or less approximates to the government they want."

      "You mean they actually vote for the lizards?"

      "Oh yes," said Ford with a shrug, "of course."

      "But," said Arthur, going for the big one again, "why?"

      "Because if they didn't vote for a lizard," said Ford, "the wrong lizard might get in."
      - So long, and thanks for all the fish - Douglas Adams

      What I don't understand is how people can choose the lesser evil to try to just slow the downward spiral. It's still a downward spiral even if it's a bit slower - the result is the same. Sure, if you're old you might not have to deal with the end result, but even then, do you really not care about the people coming after you?

      Don't you want to do the right thing? Even if the party you vote for looses, doing the right thing is surely better than actually voting for the Democrats/Republicans?:

      It's better to vote for what you want and not get it than to vote for what you don't want and get it.
      - Eugene Victor Debs
      • We need publicly financed elections and condorcet voting.

        Frankly, that's the only way we're going to get third parties worth voting for. Frankly, the Libertarians scare me. The Constitution Party should scare the hell out of anybody. I'm ideologically aligned with the Green party, but they strike me as a bunch of disorganized hippies who wouldn't know what to do with the country if we turned it over to them.

        Actually having a significant number of people governing would make third parties far more effecti
      • The fundamental problem doesn't lie with the voters, it lies with the system. Our system is at equilibrium with two parties. When a third party grows in popularity, it acts as a "spoiler" against one of the two established parties (predominantly against the party that most closely matches that third-parties views, in fact). After a bit of turmoil, everything settles back down again with two parties.

        What I don't understand is how people can choose the lesser evil to try to just slow the downward spiral.

        The e

    • by Greyfox (87712) on Saturday June 24, 2006 @10:29AM (#15596153) Homepage Journal
      I do that at the state and local level. At the Felderal level it's a little too much like throwing my vote away for my taste. I usually just vote against the incumbant unless they've done something to give me a warm fuzzy. It's still throwing your vote away (98% of the time the incumbant will win) and if they lose because of my vote the Senate is losing all that experience and possibly seats on comittees will have to change, but I don't think any one person should remain too long in the corrupting influence of Congresss anyway. If I had my way, 1 or 2 terms would be the limit.
      • Had I mod points, I'd mod you up. There needs to be an anti-incumbent movement. Sort of like MoveOn.org, but not a shill for the Democratic Party.

        I vote against incumbents at all levels. But, I do believe that a Libertarian vote at local level elections is a very positive thing.
  • Secretly? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MarkByers (770551) on Saturday June 24, 2006 @08:26AM (#15595710) Homepage Journal
    It's not so secret any more!

    Anyway...

    Why don't companies announce immediately when they have been forced to do something by the government against their will (like Google)? As far as I was aware America is still a country where you can speak freely against the government without fear of punishment. Why not just admit it in public that you are being forced to hand over confidential information? If the banks are hiding it too, then they are as much to blame and should not be trusted.

    Or is the government using threats to keep the banks quiet? If so, what threats do they use? And can anything be done about it to make sure it doesn't happen again?
    • Re:Secretly? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Rick Zeman (15628) on Saturday June 24, 2006 @08:42AM (#15595758)
      Why don't companies announce immediately when they have been forced to do something by the government against their will (like Google)? As far as I was aware America is still a country where you can speak freely against the government without fear of punishment. Why not just admit it in public that you are being forced to hand over confidential information? If the banks are hiding it too, then they are as much to blame and should not be trusted.

      Or is the government using threats to keep the banks quiet? If so, what threats do they use? And can anything be done about it to make sure it doesn't happen again?


      In the case of the NSA tapping the phone switches, the threat was that of "future government contracts and renegotiations" which was/is CONSIDERABLE $$$. Since Google doesn't have the same business model (lots of $$ from lots of sources instead of lots of $$ from few sources), they had the flexibility (and dare I say it...freedom) to speak out loud.
    • Re:Secretly? (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Why don't companies announce immediately when they have been forced to do something by the government against their will

      Uhm, because they are often specifically forbidden to. That's the real prize of 9/11 for law enforcement - they HATE transparency and accountability, all this "national security" stuff pretty much means that they don't have to be bothered with all that hippie liberal nonsense.

    • Re:Secretly? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Broken Bottle (84695) on Saturday June 24, 2006 @09:03AM (#15595815)
      [blockquote] Why don't companies announce immediately when they have been forced to do something by the government against their will (like Google)?[/blockquote]

      Given the Bush administration's behavior regarding these sorts of activities, likely the companies are threatened with federal prosecution if they reveal the attempt because it would the "terrorists" hints about how we're trying to track them down. It's more than convenient that these hints to the "terrorists" are also hints to the public that the White House is trampling our civil rights and evading oversight YET AGAIN.
  • quick success (Score:4, Insightful)

    by swissfondue (819240) <swissfondue AT gmail DOT com> on Saturday June 24, 2006 @08:28AM (#15595719)
    So the US found a quick way to access international payment flows. I wonder about their "successes", which sound a lot like the "take our word for it, we know Saddam has chemical weapons". Also SWIFT, a seemingly international organization, has in fact confirmed it is controlled by the US by agreeing to pass all its data to the US. I wonder what its Arab clients are thinking. SWIFT can probably now close shop.
    • Re:quick success (Score:3, Informative)

      by Haljo Gemel (934976)
      SWIFT can probably now close shop.

      I can assure you that that will not happen. I work for an Aussie bank and SWIFT is very tightly integrated into all our systems and the systems of our clients. Even if we wanted to leave we couldn't. I'm not even sure if there is a decent, viable alternative.

    • Re:quick success (Score:4, Interesting)

      by CaptainZapp (182233) * on Saturday June 24, 2006 @09:25AM (#15595903) Homepage
      I wonder what its Arab clients are thinking. SWIFT can probably now close shop.

      I'm more wondering what the honchos of UBS and Credit Suisse (who have representatives in the board of SWIFT) where thinking while this little scheme was going along.

      You see, breeching customer confidentiality [wikipedia.org] is protected by federal law in Switzerland and violating this penal code may draw jail time.

      That doesn't mean that Swiss banks never provide foreign authorities with customer data, but such authorities must show that there's an ongoing investigation about a crime, or a felony. That's what actually pisses off a lot of foreign governments with stringent fiscal policies, since tax evasion is not a felony in Switzerland and is thus protected under the bank secrecy act.

      If wholesale supplying of customer data to the US authorities is not a breech of this code, I don't know what is.

      Mind you, that has nothing to do with the infamous Swiss number accounts so much beloved by bad authors. There are no anonymous bank accounts anymore in Switzerland and a numbered account only guarantees that your true identity is coded within the bank and only a few very high honchos know the true identity of the account owner.

      Of course Credit Suisse (CSFB) as well as UBS are major players in the US' financial markets and they wouldn't want to piss the US authorities off; now would they?

      • Re:quick success (Score:3, Interesting)

        by EasyTarget (43516)
        SWIFT is also HQ'd in Belgium, and the Belgies do not like being pushed around by bigger countries (legacy of being piggie in the middle for 2 world wars and several european ones). SWIFT will find itself under investigation in Belgium for this too (which could be fun if they fight a warrant to protect the US, the Belgian police are basically a full military outfit run by the judiciary).
        Depends on how corrupt the current Belgian legislature is.
  • seriously (Score:3, Insightful)

    by scenestar (828656) on Saturday June 24, 2006 @08:29AM (#15595722) Homepage Journal
    You americans can do whatever the fuck you want to your own citizens.

    But please keep us europeans out of it.
    • Re:seriously (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Oswald (235719) on Saturday June 24, 2006 @08:57AM (#15595799)
      I sympathize completely with your view on this, but I can't help pointing out the irony in your post. Invading the privacy of non-U.S. citizens isn't even an issue here. So what you say, from a (U.S.) legal standpoint (and, sorry to confirm your suspicions, the point of view of much of the citizenry), is exactly backwards. We're NOT supposed to do this to ourselves, but are quite free to do it to anybody else.

      On the other hand, I hardly think this makes us unique. Stop for a second to ask yourself if the British or the French intelligence services would have any qualms about examining the financial records of American citizens (or each others' citizens). Laughable. Not even an issue. It's only makes news here because we have an article in our Constitution that theoretically protects us from our unjustified snooping, and Americans keep getting caught in the dragnet. Do Europeans have similar articles? I'm sorry to say I don't know, but I've been told they do not.

      • Re:seriously (Score:4, Informative)

        by EasyTarget (43516) on Saturday June 24, 2006 @09:33AM (#15595924) Journal
        Privacy is controlled on a national level here in yrp, with the EU 'human Rights' legislation as a sort of umbrella over that. Levels of legal protection vary and so do levels of compliance/enforcement. But in Theory every countries Spook squad looks harder at foreign threats than at domestic ones. In Practice the politicians and the spooks are totally paranoid about domestic threats to their power and spend huge resources spying on their own citizens (and I think the US is going the same way, the Homeland Security BrownHats are now the third largest US gvt. department.)

        The advantage the US has is it's constitution, which is something I admire a lot. I think it is interesting that your administration is trying to change it (gay marriage). Is this because they want to get people into the 'habit' of changing it in response to perceived 'threats to the American Way(tm)'; so that it can then be changed for 'the war on terror' (think more spooks with more powers, and probably stuff to buy off corporations).

        The beauty of your constitution (apart from being drafted on hemp paper :-) is that it is short and to-the-point. They tried to get a 'constitution' passed here, hungreds of pages of waffle designed to promote the intrests of beaurocrats. It was so bad that even the French voters rejected it. Personally I will never vote in favour of any constitution longer than 2 A4 pages of 12pt type. And even then only if it takes power -from- the state, as much as giving power -to- it.
  • by glennrrr (592457) on Saturday June 24, 2006 @08:30AM (#15595724)
    Just passing along this comment I saw on Instapundit: [instapundit.com]
    What has not been stressed is that SWIFT is not used for individuals. It is used for processing money transfers, stock transfers and bond transfers from companies, governments, banks, insurance companies and NGO's. What we essentially had on file was the holdings for almost all our clients and the clearance data for these transactions dating back for years. We had to keep all this on file to satisfy all the governmental regulations on taxations, etc.
    • No it works this way: An individual tells his bank to send data to another account cross-border. The bank uses Swift messages to transmit the payment order to the other bank. The data includes account details, name etc. So why it is not used by individuals, it often concerns transactions (payments, securities) by individuals.
    • by Oswald (235719) on Saturday June 24, 2006 @08:43AM (#15595759)
      Well, from TFA:

      After identifying a suspect, Levey said, "you can do a search, and you can determine whom he sent money to, and who sent money to him."

      "The way the SWIFT data works, you would have all kinds of concrete information -- addresses, phone numbers, real names, account numbers, a lot of stuff we can really work with, the kind of actionable information that government officials can really follow up on," Levey said.

      Doesn't sound like purely institution-related data. And this from the "undersecretary of the Treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence," whatever the hell that is.

    • by glennrrr (592457) on Saturday June 24, 2006 @08:52AM (#15595781)
      If you follow the links in the Instapundit posting you get to this description [scsuscholars.com] of the SWIFT system.
      A SWIFT consists of a one-page document containing the name and code of the originating bank, the date and time, the address and code of the receiving bank, the name and internal code of the officer initiating the transmission, the names and numbers of the accounts involved in the transfer, a description of the asset being transferred, the MT category of the transmission, and acceptable, standardized phrases as described above.
    • by Alsee (515537) on Saturday June 24, 2006 @09:13AM (#15595852) Homepage
      What has not been stressed is that SWIFT is not used for individuals. It is used for processing money transfers, stock transfers and bond transfers from companies, governments, banks, insurance companies and NGO's.

      WAAAAAHAHAHAHA! That's hysterical. Absolutely hysterical It's amazing just how far some people can warp their perception of reality when they so desperately need to perceive reality as supporting some political position.

      In related news, the also recently exposed federal phone wiretapping program is never used for individuals. Those wiretaps are used for the recording of audio communications between phone companies, and logging the associated source and destination phone numbers records on each voice communication.

      If someone argues that the current federal program is legal and that it is a a good and acceptable activitity in trying to persue terrorists... well that is a perfectly rational arguement with which one can argue the factual truth or falsity of the claim that it is a legal, and with which one can reasonably agree or dissagree with the oppinion of it being good and acceptable.

      However when someone tries to argue that this new program is only about companies and banks, and tries to suggest that it has no impact or relevance on individuals... well that is just plain DELUSIONAL reasoning.

      -
  • Setting aside all of the civil liberties / constitutinal powers arguements, when will access to all of this information become too tempting for the likes of Karl Rove et al keep their hands off?

    Ooops too late...actually they crossed the line in a petty way once (w/ Plame) which was just plain stupid. Being ones to learn from their mistakes (unlike the sheep on the other side of the aisle), further use dubiosly collected information for political gain will be much more subtle.

  • by LewsTherinKinslayer (817418) <lewstherinkinslayer@gmail.com> on Saturday June 24, 2006 @08:58AM (#15595803) Homepage
    i'm a lefty pinko who advocates the protection and expansion of civil rights: wanna know what the worst aspect of this (and the NSA phone call database, etc is?

    how much time is being wasted by the FBI when investigative man power could be directed more effectively at more pressing issues.
  • by nurb432 (527695) on Saturday June 24, 2006 @09:02AM (#15595811) Homepage Journal
    Not only do they know how much money you move, but by getting into the retail databases, they also know what ( and when, and where ) you are buying.

    Just hope that what you bought today legally doesnt become 'questionable' ( or down right illegal ) tomrrow. You might find a knock on your door.
  • within the system (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 24, 2006 @09:04AM (#15595818)
    "You can't type in a random name of someone" and search his data, said one intelligence official who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "The program only works for names already within the intelligence system that were collected elsewhere and are identified as being part of an open investigation."

    And we know from their illegal phone tapping practices, bloated do-not-fly lists etc, etc, that by now they've collected the names of pretty much every other American (not to mention nearly all other humans; remember, this is an international system; very heavily used by European banks, for one), and that with six degrees of separation, they all have enough ties to be part of the open investigations.

    What isn't mentioned at all in this Washington Post article, which the New York Times [nytimes.com] does mention, are such snippets as:
    Several people familiar with the Swift program said they believed that they were exploiting a "gray area" in the law

    "There was always concern about this program," a former official said.

    "At first, they got everything -- the entire Swift database," one person close to the operation said.

    Swift executives became increasingly worried about their secret involvement with the American government, the officials said. By 2003, the cooperative's officials were discussing pulling out because of their concerns about legal and financial risks if the program were revealed, one government official said.
    "How long can this go on?" a Swift executive asked, according to the official.
    Even some American officials began to question the open-ended arrangement. "I thought there was a limited shelf life and that this was going to go away," the former senior official said.

    Read the entire New York Times article for more. Chilling.

    Given the impact this has on Europeans involved in international transfers as well, if you're European, have you already contacted your bank to urge them to use their influence with SWIFT to make this stop?! There's never much to be done when there's the need to call or write congress critters, but with European privacy laws actually being worth something (in theory), here's a chance to voice very strong displeasure and make this stop!

  • echo $FREEDOM (Score:5, Interesting)

    by delire (809063) on Saturday June 24, 2006 @09:08AM (#15595833)

    It would be greatly appreciated by the Billions of us that don't live there if you Americans would do something about your current government.

    America increasingly represents the antithesis of 'freedom' and personal liberty especially for those in other countries. They are innovators in the strategic reduction of civil rights, at home and elsewhere. Freedom is not a brand, it's a right and you don't have to be American to have it FFS.
  • Cheney's response (Score:5, Informative)

    by mrogers (85392) on Saturday June 24, 2006 @09:09AM (#15595842)
    Cheney's predictable response: anyone who criticises mass surveillance is helping terrorists [nytimes.com].
    • by TubeSteak (669689) on Saturday June 24, 2006 @10:58AM (#15596255) Journal
      The senator [Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee] said he was particularly troubled that the administration had expanded its Congressional briefings on the financial tracking program in recent weeks after having learned that The New York Times was making inquiries.

      "Why does it take a newspaper investigation to get them to comply with the law?" the senator asked. "That's a big, important point."
      Specter gets right down to the essentials.

      The question isn't "Why are they running a secret program?"
      It's "Why are they doind it without the proper oversight?"
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 24, 2006 @10:32AM (#15596170)
    What the fuck are we doing in Europe, having US listening and monitoring stations listening in on us from our own soil?

    If Americans want to elect Bush, thats there problem, but we should be protecting our interests, not theirs.
  • by l5rfanboy (977086) on Saturday June 24, 2006 @11:24AM (#15596328)
    Does it fail to surprise anyone else that CNN and other major media (I mean, 'news') outlets aren't reporting on this? Then again, they're so busy reporting on Kidman and Urban's desires for a normal wedding, Anna Nicole Smith's inheritance rival dying, and Reese Witherspoon suing someone over a false pregnancy story (all on CNN.com). Who has time for this kind of news when there's all that out there! Such decisions!

    I will be interested in seeing the BBC's take on the matter.

  • NPR Interview (Score:5, Informative)

    by HardCase (14757) on Saturday June 24, 2006 @11:35AM (#15596371)
    The news program All Things Considered interviewed the undersecretary responsible for the program yesterday (6/24/06). The interviewer didn't really pull any punches and the answers were pretty interesting. I highly recommend going to NPR's web site and listening to it.

    When asked what layers of security were in place to prevent misuse, the reply was that in order to perform a search, the analyst had to show that the individual or group being queried had been identified as having a potential terrorism link. That request had to be vetted by a supervisor, then by a representative from SWIFT. Then, when the query is performed, if no evidence is found, then the information is discarded at the analyst's level. A government auditing team reviews the information that is gleaned and a third party auditing team (from Booz Allen) audits the government.

    The undersecretary said that they did remove an analyst earlier this year for abusing the system. The auditing system caught him.

    The undersecretary also said that about 10% of the searches performed provided evidence of links to terrorist organizations. That, he said, was a very high rate compared to other intelligence methods.

    For me, personally, if that's the way that the government is using the SWIFT database, I don't have a problem with it. If the queries are targeted, as opposed to a broad sweep, it strikes me as a legitimate use of an intelligence asset.

    Interestingly enough, the general attitude of the security and privacy experts that ATC interviewed was fairly positive about the program.

    -h-

You can do this in a number of ways. IBM chose to do all of them. Why do you find that funny? -- D. Taylor, Computer Science 350

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