Friday, June 23, 2006

Feds sift through financial data

The Bush administration is defending a program under which the Treasury Department and CIA are examining records from an international database of money transfers. You can certainly file this story under the "follow the money" theme. From Reuters:

U.S. Treasury Secretary John Snow on Friday defended a secret program for monitoring financial transactions, calling it "government at its best" and a valuable aid for fighting terrorism.

For nearly five years since the Sept. 11 2001 terror attacks, Treasury has been tapping into records of the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications (SWIFT) for evidence of potential activity by terror groups.

Despite Treasury's efforts to keep it quiet, the New York Times laid the program out in detail on Friday, forcing Treasury to confirm it while complaining about the revelation.

"As part of our efforts to track the funds of terrorists, we are confirming that we have subpoenaed records on terrorist-related transactions from SWIFT," Treasury Under Secretary Stuart Levey told a hastily called news conference.

I get the feeling that I am not the only one who enjoys the "government at its best" assertion.

All the usual justifications for these surveillance/spying programs have been trotted out. It is an "effective tool" in combatting the social ill or crime in question (international terrorism), it will be tightly focused on targeting only the individual bad guys, it will serve justice, polling shows that the American public supports this policy, etc.

Oh and here's one more point attributed to Snow (I believe at this point in the article they're referring to Tony Snow, White House spokesman):

Snow said the program was "entirely consistent" with efforts to strengthen government activities and to protect America from potential attacks by terror groups.

I would agree with that. It seems entirely consistent with the nature of PATRIOT Act, NSA phone tapping, and all other manner of domesting spying programs. I don't think there's any question that this type of activity will be shown to yield some much heralded "results". It's just a matter of the rights and privacies that will be subject to violation over time.

We can achieve almost any end in this world if we pay no regard to how it comes about. Sift through enough sand and you are bound to uncover some pebble or stone. Maybe I am wrong and this is the type of thing that must be done.

I just have to wonder how it is that so many are willing to believe that the scope of these dragnets will remain limited over time. Look, for example, at the increased implementation of RICO indictments and property seizures over time. Are these invasive government programs the best way to achieve security and discourage the spread of terrorism and crime?