The US National Security Agency allegedly tapped in to credit card and bank-to-bank transactions crossing the Visa and Swift networks as part of its global intelligence gathering operations, according to documents passed to Der Spiegel by whistleblower Edward Snowden.
The leaked papers reveal that the NSA set up a special branch to monitor financial transactions, dubbed 'Follow The Money', with its own FTM acronym.
Transactional data pulled from Visa and Swift was allegedly transferred to the NSA's own financial database, called Tracfin. By 2011 the Tracfin database housed 180 million files, of which 85% referenced credit card transactions, principally from the Emea region.
In a statement, Visa says: "With respect to the claims in the Der Spiegel article, we are not aware of any unauthorized access into our network. Visa takes data security seriously and, in response any attempted intrusion, we would pursue all available remedies to the fullest extent of the law. Further, it's Visa's policy to only provide transaction information in response to a subpoena or other valid legal process."
In 2010 European Parliamentarians formally adopted a data sharing deal giving US authorities access to EU bank account data carried over the international Swift network.
However, MEPs on the EU Civil Liberties Committee have since complained that US requests for banking data "are too general and abstract to allow Europol to check whether they meet EU data protection standards, and Europol seems to be merely rubber-stamping them".
The implications of NSA snooping revelations for key EU-US deals such as Safe Harbour (on privacy principles), the Terrorist Finance Tracking Programme (TFTP) and the Passenger Name Record (PNR) were discussed on Thursday at a second hearing of a specially-convened Civil Liberties Committee inquiry into US and EU countries' surveillance schemes.