NSA spying on millions of Visa transactions

The NSA’s own financial databank contained over 180 million records in 2011, 84 percent credit card transactions

By Natasha Lennard
September 16, 2013 6:00PM (UTC)
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Der Spiegel on Sunday posted its latest revelations on NSA surveillance based on leaks from whistle-blower Edward Snowden. According to top-secret documents, the NSA "widely monitors international payments, banking and credit card transactions.” In 2011 the NSA’s own financial databank, known as “Tracfin,” contained 180 million records, 84 percent of which were of credit card transactions with a focus on Visa customers in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

In previous weeks the spy agency has admitted to watching international financial transactions for counterterror and anti-trafficking purposes. However, the extent of the NSA's ability to access financial transactions has made even the NSA's U.K. counterpart concerned, according again to leaked documents. Via Der Spiegel:


The goal was to "collect, parse and ingest transactional data for priority credit card associations, focusing on priority geographic regions."

In response to a Spiegel inquiry, however, VISA issued a statement in which it said, "We are not aware of any unauthorized access to our network. Visa takes data security seriously and, in response to any attempted intrusion, we would pursue all available remedies to the fullest extent of the law. Further, its Visa's policy to only provide transaction information in response to a subpoena or other valid legal process."

...But even intelligence agency employees are somewhat concerned about spying on the world finance system, according to one document from the UK's intelligence agency GCHQ concerning the legal perspectives on "financial data" and the agency's own cooperations with the NSA in this area. The collection, storage and sharing of politically sensitive data is a deep invasion of privacy, and involved "bulk data" full of "rich personal information," much of which "is not about our targets," the document says.

Natasha Lennard

Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email nlennard@salon.com.

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Credit Cards Der Spiegel Edward Snowden Nsa Privacy Spying Surveillance Tracfin Visa