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Bank monitoring

The government’s plans to create a new database holding the financial details of all Spaniards have raised a number of legal issues

With the aim of fighting money-laundering and terrorism funding, the Spanish government intends to put practically the entire population on file, simply for having bank accounts, deposits or financial assets to their name.

This exchange will not take place directly between the affected parties and government agencies, but by forcing lenders to provide the information for them. It may well be that the activities under scrutiny are so broad in scope that investigating them will require something like a powerful search engine to comb through the lists, which will include nearly the entire population.

It is also true that other mega-databases already exist, such as those run by state security agencies and those storing tax returns. But granting oneself the power to uncover the financial transactions of 34 million Spaniards is a very sensitive matter, one that touches upon issues such as civil liberties and requires detailed explanations from the government.

It was this newspaper’s reporters who lifted the veil of secrecy surrounding the drafting of the new regulation

Instead of that, it was this newspaper’s reporters who lifted the veil of secrecy surrounding the drafting of the new regulation.

The government is giving itself complete power over this “file of financial ownership.” It will be run by the Economy Ministry unit in charge of money laundering; its use will be controlled by someone designated by the attorney general; and, above all, many other government services will have access to it.

Whereas existing legislation limits this kind of access to judges, attorneys and law enforcement agencies, the new regulation gives it to the intelligence services (CNI) and the Tax Agency. Whereas the law requires the police to obtain a warrant first, the new regulation has been drafted in such a confusing way that it is unclear whether this sort of legal authorization will still be necessary. How is it possible for a mere regulation to change a primary law, especially on such a sensitive matter as a file containing the financial data of nearly the entire population?

If the point of the regulation is simply to silence the critics, then this decree will do the job

But if these measures seem excessive, it should be pointed out that the regulation excludes accounts and deposits kept in Spanish lenders’ branch offices in other countries. This, despite the fact that ever since the days of a scandal involving former Civil Guard chief Luis Roldán in the early 1990s, and up to the recent case involving former Popular Party treasurer Luis Bárcenas, we either know or have well-founded suspicions that more than one money-laundering scheme is taking place outside Spain.

Not even the policies with the greatest social support, such as the fight against ETA’s terrorist campaign, justified placing significant limits on civil liberties. If the point of this regulation is simply to silence the critics and to pretend to be diligent in the eyes of international organizations that fight money laundering, then this decree will do the job. But if the government really plans on implementing everything contained in the regulation, then it will be assuming powers of very questionable scope. It is obvious that money laundering needs to be fought vigorously, but in such a way that the population will trust those who are in charge.

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