Here's yet another story about how the NSA has been monitoring international money transactions, even those of innocent people. Even according to insiders, this is clearly illegal. Here are a few paragraphs from the German magazine Der Spiegel on the story:
Some members of the intelligence community even view spying in the global financial system with a certain amount of concern, as revealed by a document from the NSA's British counterpart -- the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) -- that deals with "financial data" from a legal perspective and examines the organization's own collaboration with the NSA. According to the document, the collection, storage and sharing of "politically sensitive" data is a highly invasive measure since it includes "bulk data -- rich personal information. A lot of it is not about our targets."
Indeed, secret documents reveal that the main NSA financial database Tracfin, which collects the "Follow the Money" surveillance results on bank transfers, credit card transactions and money transfers, already had 180 million datasets by 2011. The corresponding figure in 2008 was merely 20 million. According to these documents, most Tracfin data is stored for five years.
This obviously pisses off many people, particularly the European Union, who the NSA targeted. The article says in part,
On Monday, SPIEGEL reported that the NSA monitors a significant share of international money transfers, including bank and credit card transactions. The information comes from documents in the possession of whistleblower Edward Snowden that SPIEGEL has been able to see. "Follow the Money" is the name of the NSA branch that handles the surveillance. Information obtained by "Follow the Money" then flows into a financial database known as Tracfin. In 2011, Tracfin had 180 million datasets -- 84 percent of which are comprised of credit card data.
But data from the SWIFT network, headquartered in Brussels, also ends up on Tracfin. SWIFT, which handles international transfers among thousands of banks, is identified by the NSA as a "target" according to the Snowden documents. They also show that the NSA monitors SWIFT on several different levels, with the NSA department for "tailored access operations" also being involved. Among other methods, the documents note that the NSA has the ability to read "SWIFT printer traffic from numerous banks."