Are the Feds Using Backdoor Searches to Access Your Banking Data?

BuzzFeed reports federal agencies violating the rules to engage in warrantless domestic snooping of financial information.


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While civil rights and privacy advocates attempt to try to shut a federal surveillance "backdoor" used to snoop on Americans' communications without a warrant, today a BuzzFeed report warns of the existence of another one involving all our bank accounts.

Jason Leopold and Jessica Garrison today report that citizens' banking and financial data are being searched and stored by federal organizations that do not have the authority to do so. For those who have been following the controversies over federal surveillance of Americans, the contours of these allegations will seem familiar: An organization who is supposed to be using its surveillance to track foreign activity is also using its access to snoop on Americans.

BuzzFeed reports:

At issue is the collection and dissemination of information from a vast database of mostly US citizens' banking and financial records that banks turn over to the government each day. Banks and other financial institutions are required, under the Bank Secrecy Act of 1970, to report suspicious transactions and cash transactions over $10,000. The database is maintained by the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, or FinCEN, a bank regulator charged with combatting money laundering, terrorist financing, and other financial crimes. Under the law, it has unfettered powers to peruse and retain the data.

In contrast to FinCEN, Treasury's intelligence division, known as the Office of Intelligence and Analysis, or OIA, is charged with monitoring suspicious financial activity that occurs outside the US. Under a seminal Reagan-era executive order, a line runs through the Treasury Department and all other federal agencies separating law enforcement, which targets domestic crimes, from intelligence agencies, which focus on foreign threats and can surveil US citizens only in limited ways and by following stringent guidelines.

FinCEN officials have accused their counterparts at OIA, an intelligence unit, of violating this separation by illegally collecting and retaining domestic financial information from the banking database. Some sources have also charged that OIA analysts have, in a further legal breach, been calling up financial institutions to make inquiries about individual bank accounts and transactions involving US citizens. Sources said the banks have complied with the requests because they are under the impression they are giving the information to FinCEN, which they are required to do.

And then, according to BuzzFeed, this information is getting accessed by CIA and defense officials in circumstances that are not supposed to be allowed. Much like the controversy of the misuse of Section 702 surveillance authorities, this is a case where a whole host of federal agencies are getting unwarranted, secret access to Americans' private data—financial information in this case.

Contain your surprise: This behavior preceded President Donald Trump's administration and was happening while President Barack Obama was president. It's another reminder that despite campaigning on openness and transparency, Obama's administration oversaw and encouraged a massive, secretive surveillance apparatus.

Read the BuzzFeed story here.

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18 responses to “Are the Feds Using Backdoor Searches to Access Your Banking Data?

  1. They know ALL ABOUT your Shackelfrod’s online porn purchases

  2. Contain your surprise

    Well, i’ll certainly try.

    1. Frankly, the only surprises in this article are:
      1. BuzzFeed has reporters who do legit reporting
      2. Shackalaka actually pays for smut

      1. 1. BuzzFeed has reporters who do legit reporting

        Leopold has chops, but he is also wrong half the time.

        1. This being BuzzFeed, the only chops I expect Leopold to have are the kind that make lamb less appealing.

  3. This is my surprised face.

    Meanwhile… Let’s ban guns. I mean institute “common sense gun control.” Maybe theres some history somewhere that needs re-writing? Quick tear down that statue of that old white dude! I’m offended!

  4. RE: Are the Feds Using Backdoor Searches to Access Your Banking Data?

    Nothing wrong with using the back door to access your banking data.
    This is Amerika.
    We are all guilty until proven innocent.

    1. No, you’re a useful debt-slave consumer, until you’re a useful scapegoat. As long as ‘they’ control the collection and distribution of information, nothing they say can bee seen as anything but motive driven propaganda.

  5. Dammit, Scott. What is it with you and backdoors?

    1. I wanted to know who is gonna make the tasteless obvious joke. Congrats, $park?.

      1. I imagine the morning meetings at Reason HQ go something like this:

        KM-W: “OK, Scott. *giggle* You get the story about backdoors. *giggle* Get it? *giggle* Because you’re gay! *giggle* Get it? *gigglesnort*”

        Then everyone else, including Robby’s hair, rolls their eyes. Again.

        So you see, it’s really Katherine that makes the obvious joke.

        1. It’s good to see her keeping the men, and Robby’s Hair, in line. If the Jacket was just left unsupervised the trail of dead would eclipse anything we’ve seen this century.

  6. This behavior preceded President Donald Trump’s administration and was happening while President Barack Obama was president.

    Barack and Michelle just celebrated their 25th! They are the cutest power couple ever.

    1. There clearly orchestrated, incredibly public, displays of affection let me know what real love is. God bless Mommy and Daddy.

  7. It’s a bit silly for the government to make privacy illegal in violation of the Constitution, and then complain about what rival government agencies are doing with data that only exists because the government is illegally collecting it.

  8. citizens’ banking and financial data are being searched and stored by federal organizations that do not have the authority to do so.

    I want to say ‘Duh!’ but…

  9. A bit disingenuous to blame this on Obama if it’s been happening since the Nixon and Reagan Administrations. Especially as it sounds like from the Buzzfeed article that it may have been the GWB Administration who gave OIA the permission.

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