CIA collecting in bulk data on international money transfers, say reports

Social Security numbers and other data are also reportedly collected by the agency

The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency secretly collects data in bulk on international money transfers, under a program similar to the government's collection of phone records, according to reports.

The information collected includes financial and sometimes personal data, including Social Security numbers of Americans, as part of the agency's terrorism investigations, The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday. Though the program does not collect data on solely domestic transactions, it is allowed to collect data on Americans for foreign intelligence purposes with assistance from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, according to the newspaper.

Former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden disclosed through newspapers that the NSA collects telephony records in bulk of U.S. citizens, while also having access in real-time to content on servers of U.S. Internet companies through a program called Prism.

The Internet companies have denied their participation in the Prism program. The government has admitted that it collects phone metadata in bulk and said it needed the collection and storage of such bulk data for its analysis tools to be effective.

The collection of financial data by the CIA has been authorized by the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in Washington, D.C., which also permits the NSA's collection of phone metadata, according to the reports.

Both authorizations are under Section 215 of the Patriot Act which allows the government to force companies to turn over business records for counterterrorism purposes. Companies ordered to turn over records to the spy agencies are usually under a "gag order" that prohibits their disclosing information on the orders.

The CIA could not be immediately reached for comment. "The CIA protects the nation and upholds the privacy rights of Americans by ensuring that its intelligence-collection activities are focused on acquiring foreign intelligence and counterintelligence in accordance with U.S. laws," it said to the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.

The data collected in bulk from money-transfer companies is placed in a dedicated database. In accordance with rules set by FISC, information about people in the U.S. is masked unless found to be of foreign-intelligence interest, according to the Wall Street Journal.

John Ribeiro covers outsourcing and general technology breaking news from India for The IDG News Service. Follow John on Twitter at @Johnribeiro. John's e-mail address is john_ribeiro@idg.com

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