Proposal to Share Treasury FinCEN Database of Suspicious Banking Reports With CIA, NSA

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A document reviewed by Reuters supposedly shows plans by the Obama administration to share Americans’ financial activities with spy agencies as they conduct terrorism investigations.

The document from the U.S. Treasury revealed plans that would give intelligence agencies, like Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency, access to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) database, which is where “suspicious activity reports” are filed by financial institutions.

Reuters noted that the FBI already had access to the database, but the CIA and NSA had to make requests for information. This proposal would link the database to the Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System.

Financial institutions file suspicious activity reports to FinCEN to the tune of more than 15 million each year, Reuters reported. Cases that might prompt making such a report include include getting more than $10,000 in cash, suspected money laundering or other fraud.

“For these reports to be of value in detecting money laundering, they must be accessible to law enforcement, counter-terrorism agencies, financial regulators, and the intelligence community,” the Treasury planning document said, according to Reuters.

The problem with suspicious activity reports, as it has been noted before, is the potential for innocent banking activities to be taken out of context and put someone falsely under watch for potential terrorism. As Bank Rate wrote in 2006, “almost anything out of the ordinary that rouses the suspicion of the personnel where the transaction took place,” could result in one of these reports. And those about whom the report is filed never know.

Sharon Bradford Franklin with the Constitution Project told Reuters the proposal ”raises concerns as to whether people could find their information in a file as a potential terrorist suspect without having the appropriate predicate for that and find themselves potentially falsely accused.”

This proposal is similar to one announced last March, which allowed any government agency to tap databases to analyze suspicious activity. Here’s a bit more from TheBlaze regarding the change made last year:

The changes to guidelines for National Counterterrorism Center was signed by Attorney General Eric Holder earlier this year, allowing the center to obtain and retain information from government datasets for up to five years. NCTC could also permanently retain data it deems “reasonably believed to constitute terrorism information.” All of these actions were not allowed in the previous guidelines for obtaining non-terror information from other agencies.

Through Freedom of Information Act requests and interviews, the Wall Street Journal learned more about why the NCTC wanted access to datasets, which hold everything from financial forms to health records to flights taken to lists of American households with foreign-exchange students. It also learned how some internally were fighting to protect the information of innocent citizens in such datasets.

Although it is pointed out that use of the information in the FinCEN database would need to adhere to privacy measures in the Bank Secrecy Act and Patriot Act, American University law professor Stephen Vladeck told Reuters privacy advocates have been seeking more limits on how the government can use the information it collects.

Read more in Reuters’ report here.