Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Privacy Commish investigates data mining by States

Towards the end of June, both the New York TImes and the Wall Street Journal reported about a small but very important outfit called SWIFT -- the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication -- was passing information to Western governments about suspicious financial transactions. The White House and Fox News condemned the disclosure by the NYT as "supporting the terrorists" but strangely, they did not call the WSJ to talk.

Now, SWIFT has come under scrutiny from a rather unlikely source -- and it has the potential to be embarrassing to the Harper Government. That source is Canada's Privacy Commissioner, Jennifer Stoddart. True, the exchange of financial data has been going on for years, even before 9/11. However, the concern here is that in an attempt to track down terrorists, a "fishing expedition" has been going on and people's private information has been turned over to the US Homeland Security Department. This includes people who have no ties or have no intention of ever being tied to terrorists.

The question here is, has Canadians' private banking information been given en masse to the Americans -- and if so, why? If Canadian banks are being used to launder the ill gotten gains of crooks, then there should be no safe harbour for those who would break the law. But if the purpose of the exercise is just to give the White House the store so they can look for a needle in a haystack, then that is completely unacceptable.

We already have our own, in house system of tracking potentially fradulent transactions, called FINTRAC. If monies have crossed borders for suspicious reasons, then there is probable cause to investigate if it is not above board -- or is. However, it's no one's business but mine if I go to a supermarket or gas station or hotel and get something for myself.

In a world at real or apprehended war, there obviously needs to be a tad more scrutiny to see who's playing by the rules. I can abide by that. But the current régime implemented after 9/11 regarding the electronic transfer of funds are supposed to ensure the safeguarding of law-abiding citizens. If banks -- or the government -- have gone and above that to appease Shrub and Karl Rove, then they are breaking the law and should be punished.

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