In March of this year, Adam Davidson of NPR reported on the use of bank surveillance orders to snoop in on the details of your personal financial transactions without so much as the warrant:
Banks monitor even the most mundane transactions…. Banks monitor every transaction. Every one, no matter how small…. “Your transaction is being transferred to the bank and it will be loaded into our transaction monitoring system and we will actually add this transaction together with several other types of transaction that you’ve done recently.” The software is checking to see if maybe that $4 is part of a pattern…. The report goes to a bank’s compliance officer, listing all recent suspicious transactions. Every transaction is given a numerical score…. The computer makes the score based on who is making the transaction, where does he come from, who is he associated with, what else is he up to. Every bank customer has, somewhere, in some computer database, a risk assessment score…. It also checks a bunch of lists. Are you on a terror watch list? A list of criminals?… A PEP — banks really do use that term — is anybody with political power. That means a Nigerian General, a U.S. Senator, or say the Governor of New York. And any PEP — any Politically Exposed Person — is monitored more carefully…. The Patriot Act forced banks to more closely monitor suspicious activity.
Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) from banks have been around for years, but as the Bush years have passed on they’ve been sent to the federales for analysis and followup with increasing frequency. Since Adam Davidson’s report, disclosure of SARs sent to Washington DC has been updated to include those sent in the year 2007 which, as this graph shows, was the high point for suspicious activity reports to the federal government:
That’s 1,250,439 SARs filed last year alone, a 16 percent increase over 2006 and an increase of 147 over the report levels in 2003. Don’t worry too much about whether your records fit within that set of 1.25 million. Take consolation in the fact that it’s much more likely the reports being sent to the government concern the personal finances of those PEPs — Politically Exposed Persons. I’m sure that the Bush administration finds the incriminating information it receives regarding other politicians to be highly useful.
J. Edgar Hoover is smiling.