Government has its eye on your money !
ROBYN E. BLUMNER
Government has its eye on your money
Thu Jul 26 17:08:10 2001
Government has its eye on your money
By ROBYN E. BLUMNER == firstname.lastname@example.org
© St. Petersburg Times,
published July 22, 2001
Our government hates money.
Now that might sound odd since Congress is
so very good at spending it, but the truth is money is
considered a drug-war enemy. The ease with which money
moves without our government being able to track it has led
to an elaborate set of rules designed to prevent narcotics
smugglers from enjoying their illicit profits. But the
consequence of these rules is that all of us who engage in
financial transactions are now targets of government spying.
Today, every bank customer is a suspect. If a financial
institution has reason to believe a transaction is out of the
ordinary for that person, it must submit a "suspicious activity
report" to the Treasury Department's Financial Crimes
Enforcement Network. This is done without the customer's
knowledge, and it means banks are expected to know their
customers' financial habits and revenue sources.
(For those who have been following these issues, this might
sound like the "Know Your Customer" regulations that
were defeated in 1999 when the government received more
than 300,000 negative public comments. While the
regulations were withdrawn, the suspicious-activity-report
program continues under the Bank Secrecy Act.)
Since 1997 the U.S. Postal Service has also been sending
"suspicious activity reports" to the federal government.
When customers of money orders and wire transfers seem
to have more money than they should or if they seem to be
avoiding the reporting requirements that kick in for money
orders of $3,000 or more, a report must be filed. In a
training video on how to identify a suspicious transaction,
the postal service tells its employees, "It's better to report
10 legal transactions than to let one illegal transaction get
by." The program is called "Under the Eagle's Eye," a name
that says it all.
But getting American banks and the postal service to rat out
their mostly innocent customers was the easy part. It's
getting the rest of the world to join in that's been the
If you want a reason to join the black-helicopter set, read
the reports put out by the Financial Action Task Force on
Money Laundering, the 29-nation task force that includes
the United States, Germany, Japan and the rest of the
world's richest industrial nations. The task force has
developed a set of 40 "recommendations" to combat
international money laundering that read like the postal
services' training video.
Under the recommendations, all countries around the world
are expected to force their banks to know their customers
and their financial habits. Banks are also expected to submit
"suspicious activity reports" on out-of-the-ordinary and
large cash transactions, and keep the monitoring program
secret from their customers.
According to Bradley Jansen of the Free Congress
Foundation, the group that has been leading the battle
against these incursions, "countries are also supposed to set
up foreign intelligence units that are not under the control of
the government's financial regulators but under law
enforcement, with the aim of setting up a global network of
unaccountable financial police."
In June, FATF issued its annual report of "blacklisted"
countries -- those nations that have made insufficient
progress in following FATF's recommendations. This year
Russia and the Philippines made the list, as well as 13 other
Those that make the blacklist are subject to full-blown
economic sanctions, something our government is loath to
do, or advisories issued to our own banks to require
detailed documentation before doing business there, an
approach that relies on voluntary cooperation to limited
But for the past two Congresses, a bill has been introduced
to give the secretary of the Treasury vast new unilateral
powers to add teeth to FATF's blacklist. The International
Counter-Money Laundering and Anti-Corruption Act
would give the Treasury secretary the option of barring
U.S. banks from doing business with nations that refuse to
compromise the privacy of their bank customers. And now
the legislation has renewed life, since the chairmanship of
the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee
has shifted from Republican Phil Gramm of Texas, an
opponent of the measure, to Paul Sarbanes, D-M.D., a
supporter and co-sponsor.
The United States is saying to other nations: Spy on your
people, know how they get and use their money or you can
forget about doing business with us.
So much for our tradition of government restraint, where the
actions of individuals are not subject to state scrutiny
without probable cause.
We might pride ourselves as being a beacon of liberty, but
in reality the light we're shining is not to advance freedom
but to invade privacy. Our anti-money laundering efforts are
just another way we have exported our drug war to the
detriment of civil liberties around the world.
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