Saturday, June 24, 2006

MORE ON FINANCIAL DATA SURVEILLANCE -- The Bush administration responds: "A secret program that allowed U.S. officials to examine hundreds of thousands of private banking records from around the world in search of terrorist ties has been 'absolutely essential' to protecting the country from further attacks, Vice President Cheney said yesterday."

Privacy fears surface: "For most Americans, the confidentiality of their bank accounts and other financial holdings is a right to be cherished. The idea that government agents might be secretly scrutinizing the records of individuals arouses discomfort in people who view their wealth, income and other financial information as nobody's business but their own."

More Cheney: "'What I find most disturbing about these stories is the fact that some of the news media take it upon themselves to disclose vital national security programs, thereby making it more difficult for us to prevent future attacks against the American people,' Mr. Cheney said, in impromptu remarks at a fund-raising luncheon for a Republican Congressional candidate in Chicago. "'That offends me.'"

WaPo ed board is cautiously approving: "The Treasury Department's just-disclosed program of searching records of overseas bank transfers may provoke outraged comparisons to the National Security Agency's warrantless surveillance and data-mining of telephone call records. At least if news reports and government statements concerning the revelations are correct, however, this program is far less troubling. As with all revelations concerning the secretive Bush administration, you have to worry about what you don't know. So far, however, it seems like exactly the sort of aggressive tactic the government should be taking in the war on terrorism."

NYT ed board is concerned about accountability: "When government agencies are involved in continuing investigations that might infringe on Americans' privacy, it is important that some outside entity is keeping track of what is going on. That principle is particularly true now, when the United States is trying to learn how to live in a perpetual war on terror."

Instapundit seems exasperated with the media's treatment of the issue and attempts to clarify some of key facts.

Overall, it seems that the discussion (including the initial NYT report and Cheney's defense) are long on rhetoric and pithy quotes, but short on facts. The important facts, however, are not the operational details of the program, but instead are the basics of the controlling law. For example, a discussion of United States v. Miller, 425 U.S. 435 (1976), and the Financial Privacy Act, 12 U.S.C. ยงยง 3401-3420, might do much to inform folks about what financial information is (and is not) private. Is it too much to hope that we can have a more informed debate?