Faced with new responsibilities to prevent terrorism and money laundering, banks have built a huge surveillance infrastructure sweeping up millions of innocent people. Investigative journalists Jasmin Klofta and Tom Wills explain how, as part of an international collaboration, they exposed World-Check, the privately-run watchlist at the heart of the system.
An accidental leak granted a rare opportunity for journalists to examine a database used to make decisions affecting people and organisations all over the world. They include a mosque that had its bank account shut without explanation, activists blacklisted for a peaceful protest, and ordinary citizens whose political activities were secretly catalogued.
We will show how we used data mining, OSINT and traditional investigative techniques to analyse the World-Check database and discover the human impact of this Kafkaesque system, which is used by almost every major bank and many other institutions including law enforcement agencies. The resulting story made front page news in the UK, Germany, Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands and the USA.
We will also ask whether we really want banks to be held responsible for the crimes of their customers? Are Financial Intelligence Units a sensible precaution, or are they pre-crime agencies?