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Saturday, June 24, 2006

Washington Post Headline Raises Privacy Fears

Financial Search Raises Privacy Fears screams the Washington Post headline.

And according to the article, these fears have been raised by exactly one person: the ironically-named John D. ReVeal, "a lawyer who specializes in financial regulation at the Washington office of Powell Goldstein LLP."

Well, case closed, then.

I'm not saying other people don't have privacy questions, to use a word that actually has some degree of objectivity, but you sure couldn't tell that from Paul Blustein's piece. As for ReVeal, if that is his real name, here's his lawyerly, well-reasoned take:
["I]t's always bothered me that the public has no idea about a lot of this. People seem to care if their bank shares information with an insurance company, for commercial purposes. But they don't seem to mind if the bank shares information with a government that puts people into Guantanamo without hearings and so forth."
And of course the article concludes with another ReVeal quote:
"It's fair enough to say, we don't want to let the bad guys know that we're spying on them, and disclose every detail of how that's being done," ReVeal said. "But it's another thing to pull the wool over Americans' eyes and not disclose what end runs around the Fourth Amendment we may be doing."
Okay, look: I'm a libertarian and a privacy freak (two things I'm guessing a financial regulation lawyer ain't, by the way) but someone's going to have to explain to me how this amounts to an "end run" around the Fourth Amendment:

"As a general matter, [SWIFT's database] does not contain the type of information on ordinary transactions that would be made by individuals in the United States, such as deposits, withdrawals, checks, electronic bill payments and the like," said Stuart Levey, undersecretary of the Treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence.

Furthermore, the officials said, ever since the program was established, the government has taken elaborate precautions to ensure that SWIFT's data are not used for any purpose other than catching and disrupting terrorists. Investigators must provide evidence showing grounds for suspicion that the person whose transactions they are examining is involved in terrorism-related activities. SWIFT auditors may object if they view the search as unwarranted. The program even has its own outside auditors, from Booz Allen Hamilton Inc., who periodically review the searches to ensure that they are justified under the guidelines, according to Levey.

"We are not permitted to browse through this data, nor can we search it for any non-terrorism investigation," Levey said, adding that in one case a couple of years ago, an analyst was found to be conducting an improper search. "In my view, that shows that the audit process is working," he said, adding that "the person who conducted that search is no longer allowed to work on" the program.

See, all this information is in the article, but Blustein and/or his editors chose to end the piece with a quote about pulling the wool over Americans' eyes and making end runs around the Fourth Amendment. So what impression do you think most people will come away with: that this program might actually be helpful in tracking terrorists while minimizing any potential privacy violations to US citizens, or that once again the Bush administration is circumventing the Constitution and not being honest with the American people?

This is pseudo-objective journalism of the lowest kind, because it pretends to a fairness and balance it doesn't possess, and it's emblematic of how little respect our self-appointed and self-important guardians of the truth have for us. But then, those who view themselves as elites rarely do have any respect for those they consider below them.

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