It's Time to Think of Financial Information as Personal Information
Thus far, media coverage of FATCA has been almost entirely relegated to the finance and tax pages, mainly outside the United States, much of it dominated by compliance-mongers drumming up business. Even FATCA's deleterious economic impacts and the Treasury Department's grossly exceeding its legal authority have drawn little notice, especially in U.S. domestic reporting.
Still less attention has been given to what may be the real story of FATCA as a critical, but thus far almost completely ignored, piece of the growing machinery of global surveillance. After all, FATCA is only about "offshore tax evasion" and has nothing to do with personal privacy, right? It's not as though the IRS or NSA were hacking into something important, like your Instagram pix . . . right?
Wrong. First, an individual's financial information
is personal information. In terms of intrusive
agencies' monitoring -- and perhaps soon, controlling -- of the
lives of people who used to consider themselves free and
independent citizens of their respective countries, financial
information is far more significant in content than most of the
fluff and narcissism on Internet forums ,
weblogs , social blogs , microblogging , wikis , s
"Financial privacy isn't typically considered as sexy as other forms of privacy, like our right to private beliefs, health care, property, and communications. Infringement of financial privacy doesn't evoke the kind of outrage as other violations, because most overlook the vital role it plays in preserving human rights and protecting individuals from governmental abuse. Without financial privacy, for instance, law-abiding citizens around the world would be in danger of having all of their financial information shared with corrupt governments or criminal organizations, potentially exposing them to extortion, blackmail, or even kidnapping.
"Just as supporters of the police and surveillance state argue that individuals with nothing to hide should be willing to forfeit their right to privacy, those obsessed with collecting taxes think that the vast majority of Americans who do not engage in evasion should be willing to relinquish their financial privacy rights. Recent scandals have exposed these claims as na?ve and dangerous. Innocent Americans must zealously guard their privacy against government intrusion and reject invasive laws like FATCA passed under the false pretense of catching criminals." [Andrew F. Quinlan, President, Center for Freedom and Prosperity , " FATCA: The end of financial privacy ," The Daily Caller , September 13, 2013.]
Second, the sheer scope of the data haul that can be accessed if foreign financial firms' data -- potentially, all of it -- is compromised through FATCA compliance could make the revelations to date about NSA's snooping pale to insignificance. Already, we've seen the willingness of the NSA to require American domestic firms to hand over what their customers thought were private communications, to insert vulnerabilities into commercial encryption systems , and otherwise to flout the rule of law. Such lawlessness achieves a whole new dimension of menace when firms, literally, anywhere on the planet can be forced by the one-and-only global sovereign to submit to the same treatment -- with their own governments meekly cooperating even as they denounce the latest reports about the NSA.
Will the watchdogs of electronic privacy finally figure out that FATCA is not really about taxes? It's time to find out.