Monday, September 16, 2013

NSA's 'Follow the money' program is not even based in necessity - expert

NSA's 'Follow the money' program is not even based in necessity - expert
Sept 16, 2013 | Voice of Russia

NSA widely monitors international payments, banking and credit card transactions processed by companies including Visa, according to documents seen by Der Spiegel. US intelligence agency has even set up its own financial database to track money flows through a "tailored access operations" division. VoR discussed the issue with Nick Pickles in London, Director of Big Brother Watch, a privacy and civil liberties protection organization.

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Were you surprised to learn the news about NSA spying on banking transactions?

I think it is hardly surprising that law enforcement and intelligence agencies are interested in financial transactions of individuals but I was absolutely shocked that the scale of compromise in a very critical part of the world financial system appears to have a huge security vulnerability that has been exploited by NSA but the big question of course is if the NSA was exploiting this weakness, who else was?

Is this type of spying the only way to uncover activities of current and potential enemies who endanger a country`s national security?

Financial information is often a retrospective investigation because you identify a target and then try to find where the money is coming from rather than following the money to the new targets and all of that can be done in a targeted lawful manner that can involve proper judicial oversight. What this is doing is both bypassing the US court system and also these companies who have a right and proper role to ensure that if someone asks information about their customers that they are seeing proper evidence and this is a justified and proportionate investigation. I don’t think swift or the banks are not cooperating with the US government when it comes to terror investigations. So, this kind of circumvention of that legal process is not even based in necessity.

Are there certain transactions that are targeted more so than other? Which kinds of transactions are most put under the microscope?

This is very interesting because one of the issues that has been identified is money transfers between different countries and how people will move large sums of cash from one country to another whether that may be a seller or an individual operating, yet what we learned from Der Spiegel is that a huge amount of information that is being collected by the NSA is credit card transactions. The very nature of credit card transactions means that banks have a financial incentive to make sure that there is a person at the end who is able to pay. So, credit cards are not an obvious form of spending for someone who is trying to hide their activity or perhaps conduct operations that they shouldn’t be doing. So, why the NSA is going for the credit card data whether it is different financial transactions that are being used by potential terrorists does back the question what they are using this information for.

Have there been lawsuits as the result of information that has been attained this way for tax evasion etc?

There have to be investigations going on around tax evasion for example in those cases the information is being either provided by banks or ironically given the US government’s approach to Edward Snowden is actually been provided by whistleblowers who have left banks with details of, say, customers in Lichtenstein or other tax havens and have then been paid by foreign governments to hand over this information and the irony is that whistleblowers are bringing it to attention of the governments. And I think it gets to the heart of what the NSA is doing – it is how much it is about genuine necessary investigation into people who pose a national security threat to the US and how much is this driven by other departments, other uses when Congress is being told that these powers are for terrorists and the American public and indeed the global communities have been reassured that these powers are a last resort to go after people who pose a direct threat to public safety and yet very quickly we now see potential for this information to be used for tax evasion or other personal finance transactions which fall well below the bar that was set by lawmakers.

These days when most people have more than one credit card do you think the news on NSA spying will result in a decreased number of credit card holders?

I think actually the international repercussions of this have already started to be felt. I think the swift network itself and the legal relationship between Europe and America for sharing financial transaction data is going to come under scrutiny because this relationship certainly between the EU and America was struck with the US treasury at the highest levels and this was definitely not agreed that the intelligence agencies could also use information. So, I think actually the changes we will see will come about because companies and countries actually want to regain control of this financial data and in doing so the number of credit card isn’t the issue, it is actually the burden to economic trade with America, it will very quickly start a direct impact on American economy.

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