Jerri Ledford

Uncle Sam has access to your financial records

By Jerri Ledford
June 23, 2006 2:56 PM EDT
I just finished reading a story in today's issue of The New York Times that left me absolutely nauseous.  According to the news story, the US government has access to a database of financial transactions.  It wasn't clear in the story if this database includes all of the financial transactions in the US, but it is clear that the government doesn't really care.

Evidently, the database--owned by a banking cooperative named SWIFT--can be used to trace financial transactions.  And that's what the US government wanted to use it for, to trace suspected terrorists in an effort to cut off financial support for their terrorist organizations.  Only, there's a small glitch on what would otherwise seem to be an innocuous part of fighting terror.  The government has been conducting these search and analysis activities on financial records in secret.

According to the NYT story, the government uses a blanket administrative subpoena to access these records in which it searches for mainly wire-transfers and other methods of transferring or moving money overseas.  The article goes on to state that  "mostly routine financial transactions confined to this country are no in the database."

The operative word there is MOST, because some routine transactions are included in those searches.  What's more, the database gives officials access to customer names, account numbers, and other identifying information.  One senior government official is quoted as saying, "The potential for abuse is enormous."

I'll say.  Astounding is more like the term that I would use.  What this means is that if the government wants access to your financial records, they can simply use a blanket administrative subpoena to get it.  It doesn't matter why the government wants it, and it doesn't matter that this is your personal information. What DOES matter is that American citizens were given no indication that this is happening.  What's more, they were deceived in the process because this action by the government does an end run around the Right to Financial Privacy Act that was passed in 1978 that restricts government access to financial records.

In essence, we've been scammed into believing that our personal financial information was safe, when in fact, it's open to any government agency with access to one of those administrative subpoenas.  And if government employees can get to it, it's just a matter of time before one of them uses it in some improper manner or, worse, before a hacker figures out that he can get to it, too. 

We can't stand by and let this happen.  US citizens need to speak out about this (and other not-exactly-kosher activities that have been taking place since the War on Terror was declared).  Our government isn't keep us safe by lying to us and putting our personal information at risk.