The constitution contains various provisions (the so-called “Bill of Rights”) relating to the rights and privileges of citizens and individuals. Among them is the Fourth Amendment, particularly as it relates to “search and seizure”, which requires a judicial warrant in order for one’s property and related information to be searched. Another is the “right to privacy” that has been identified in various contexts by the US legal system. For more information on that complex subject, see here, here or here.
There has always been, and continues to be, tension between the US government and the legal system over how much protection such constitutional guarantees actually offer. We saw a major clash of principles in that regard only a few weeks ago. Now another threat has emerged: big business disregarding in their entirety constitutional provisions for privacy, in an attempt to help government.
Bank of America is, without the knowledge or the consent of its customers, sharing private information with federal law enforcement agencies. Bank of America effectively is acting as an intelligence agency, but they’re not telling you about it.
In the days after the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol, Bank of America went through its own customers’ financial and transaction records. These were the private records of Americans who had committed no crime; people who, as far as we know, had absolutely nothing to do with what happened at the Capitol. But at the request of federal investigators, Bank of America searched its databases looking for people who fit a specific profile.
Here’s what that profile was: “1. Customers confirmed as transacting, either through bank account debit card or credit card purchases in Washington, D.C. between 1/5 and 1/6. 2. Purchases made for Hotel/Airbnb RSVPs in DC, VA, and MD after 1/6. 3. Any purchase of weapons or at a weapons-related merchant between 1/7 and their upcoming suspected stay in D.C. area around Inauguration Day. 4. Airline related purchases since 1/6.”
The first thing you should notice about that profile is that it’s remarkably broad. Any purchases of anything in Washington, D.C.; any overnight stay anywhere in an area spanning three jurisdictions and hundreds of miles; any purchase not just of legal firearms, but anything bought from a “weapons-related merchant,” T-shirts included; and any airline-related purchases — not just flights to Washington, but flights to anywhere, from Omaha to Thailand. That is an absurdly wide net.
Bank of America identified a total of 211 customers who met these “thresholds of interest.” At that point, “Tucker Carlson Tonight” has learned, Bank of America turned over the results of its internal scan to federal authorities, apparently without notifying the customers who were being spied upon. Federal investigators then interviewed at least one of these unsuspecting people. That person, we’ve learned, hadn’t done anything wrong and was cleared.
Imagine if you were that person. The FBI hauls you in for questioning in a terror investigation, not because you’ve done anything suspicious, but because you bought plane tickets and visited your country’s capital. Now they’re sweating you because your bank, which you trust with your most private information, has ratted you out without your knowledge. Because Bank of America did that, you are being treated like a member of Al Qaeda.
. . .
It’s not even clear that what Bank of America did is even legal. We spoke to a number of lawyers about this, and some of them told us that what Bank of America did might, in fact, not be legal and could, in fact, be challenged in court. One knowledgeable attorney pointed us to 12 U.S.C. 3403. That’s a federal law that allows banks to tip off the feds to any information that “may be relevant to a possible violation of any statute or regulation.”
Now, the Justice Department instructs federal agents to remind banks of that law and, of course, they do so with maximum aggression. But the question is, what legally constitutes information that may be relevant to a possible crime? Does buying a muffin in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 5 make you a potential domestic extremist?
According to Bank of America, yes. Yes, it does.
There’s more at the link.
This should scare the heck out of anyone who values their privacy – as we all should, but regrettably many do not. In so many words, it means that every electronic financial transaction may now be used as evidence against you, purely on the grounds of circumstantial linkage, and without any search warrant or other legal safeguard protecting you and your rights. If you happened to use a Bank of America credit or debit card to buy even a soda from a vending machine in Washington D.C. on January 5th or 6th this year, you were automatically regarded with suspicion. That’s outlandish, undemocratic, and totalitarian.
Basically, this means we have to go to extreme lengths if we wish to preserve our privacy – and given the ubiquity of security camera surveillance and facial recognition systems, even that won’t be as effective as it once might have been. Nevertheless, I think the more of us who do it, the better, because we’ll all collectively make it that much more difficult for Big Brother – whether commercial or government – to separate the wheat from the chaff. We’ll help each other protect individual privacy by making it more difficult to sort out the individuals concerned.
- Don’t use (or even carry) your cellphone unless absolutely necessary.
- Pay in cash rather than by card or check.
- Avoid doing business with companies and businesses that won’t respect your right to privacy.
These, and many similar steps, won’t do much to protect our privacy in today’s technological, surveillance-oriented society; but they do say that every little helps.
Meanwhile, since it apparently regards my privacy and constitutional rights as unimportant and/or irrelevant, Bank of America can do without my business. It doubtless won’t lose any sleep over that, but it’s an important principle nonetheless. I hope more of us will follow it in our future dealings with any and all corporations.