Skip to comments.New Federal Patriot Act Turns Retailers into Spies against Customers
Posted on 11/23/2001 2:58:00 PM PST by Smogger
Nov. 18--Ordinary businesses, from bicycle shops to bookstores to bowling alleys, are being pressed into service on the home front in the war on terrorism.
Under the USA Patriot Act, signed into law by President Bush late last month, they soon will be required to monitor their customers and report "suspicious transactions" to the Treasury Department -- though most businesses may not be aware of this.
Buried in the more than 300 pages of the new law is a provision that "any person engaged in a trade or business" has to file a government report if a customer spends $10,000 or more in cash. The threshold is cumulative and applies to multiple purchases if they're somehow related -- three $4,000 pieces of furniture, for example, might trigger a filing.
Until now, only banks, thrifts, and credit unions have been required to report cash transactions to the Treasury Department's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, under the Bank Secrecy Act of 1970. A handful of other businesses, including car dealers and pawnbrokers, have to file similar reports with the Internal Revenue Service.
"This is a big deal, and a big change, for the vast majority of American businesses," said Joe Rubin, chief lobbyist for the US Chamber of Commerce. "But I don't think anybody realizes it's happened."
The impact is less clear for consumers, although privacy advocates are uncomfortable with the thought of a massive database that could bring government scrutiny on innocent people. Immigrants and the working poor are the most likely to find themselves in the database, since they tend to use the traditional banking system the least.
"The scope of this thing is huge," said Bert Ely, a financial services consultant in Alexandria, Va. "It's going to affect literally millions of people."
The filing of so-called suspicious activity reports, though, is only the latest in a series of law enforcement moves the government has made in response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. And so far, the filing requirement has been overshadowed by debate over the other changes.
The Patriot Act signed into law Oct. 26, for example, gives the government a vast arsenal of surveillance tools, easier access to personal information, and increased authority to detain and deport noncitizens. House and Senate negotiators came to terms Thursday on a bill that would add 28,000 employees to the federal payroll in an effort to bolster airport security, and Attorney General John Ashcroft has said he is reorganizing the Justice Department and the FBI to focus on counterterrorism efforts.
As for the business-filing requirement, specifics about what companies have to do and when they have to do it still need to be worked out. The Treasury Department has until March 25 -- the date the Patriot Act becomes law -- to issue regulations about how to put the new rules into practice.
"The law itself doesn't go into any detail, because you'd presume that's what the Treasury regulations are for," said Victoria Fimea, senior counsel at the American Council of Life Insurers. "And the devil, of course, is in the details."
When he signed the legislation, President Bush said the new rules were designed to "put an end to financial counterfeiting, smuggling, and money laundering." The problem, he and others have said, was keeping tabs on the billions of dollars that flow outside the traditional banking system and across national borders each year.
Money launderers often disguise the source of their money by using cash to buy pricey things. Later, they can resell the products and move the money into a bank account -- at which point it has been laundered, or made to look legitimate, by the aboveboard sale.
Making a series of transactions just below the $10,000 filing threshold is also illegal under the new law if it's done to keep a business from contacting the government.
Financial services companies such as banks, insurers, and stock brokerages face a higher standard under the new law than other businesses. In addition to the filing requirements, they have to take steps such as naming a compliance officer and implementing a comprehensive program to train employees about how to spot money laundering.
Unlike other businesses, though, most financial services companies already have a process in place to deal with government regulation.
"Certainly for the bigger [insurance] companies, they most likely are already tooled up for this," said Fimea. "For other companies, this creates a whole new landscape."
James Rockett, a San Francisco lawyer who represents banks and insurance companies in disputes with regulators, said he's skeptical the authorities will get any useful information from reports filed by nonfinancial companies.
"You're trying to turn an untrained populace into the monitors of money laundering activity," Rockett said. "If you want to stop this, it's got to be done with police work, not tracking consumers' buying habits."
Voices opposing any of the new law-enforcement measures appear to be in the minority, however. For now, at least, few people and few companies want to be perceived as being terrorist sympathizers.
"In a political sense, it would have been very hard for us to go to Congress in this case and loudly argue that the legislation shouldn't include nonfinancial-services guys," said Rubin, of the US Chamber of Commerce. "Everybody wants to help and to stop money laundering right now."
Scott Bernard Nelson can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I doubt that there is much compliance by small business since if someone hands you 10K cash for a product you are only going to declare 2 or 3K anyhow.
Remember: "We're all in this together."
Translation: Immigrants use their informal 'cultural' banking systems so they dont have to pay taxes.
This counerfeiting stuff is really comical...They told us that we needed new dollars because the old style was too easy to counterfeit...You can't walk into a convenience store without the counter clerk swiping a special pen across even a (new fangled) 5 dollar bill to see if it's real...What a fiasco...
1st of all, this is a bigger more expansive law. And second, it's coming from his administration and he signed it. The first laws like this were bad, this is worse. He should have opposed it, not Proposed it.
But you are right, we shouldn't blame W for anything, after all, he's not Clinton or Gore you know.
If you are suggesting that the buck doesn't really stop on W's desk, then you are hardly paying him a compliment, either.
We fought not just once, but at least 3 times to defeat this BS.
And of course there were the usual sheeple that are so brain-deprived they couldn't/wouldn't believe their government had ulterior methods.
Well, when President Bush says the new rules are designed to stop financial counterfeiting, smuggling and money laundering, HE IS A LIAR......hello.....look at the rules they put in play in the Caribbean on small island nations after they were talked into using financial services to stimulate their economies......now, they are black-balling these same nations BECAUSE THEY ARE NOT USING THE SAME TAXING STRUCTURES THAT THE OTHER 'BIG' COUNTRIES ARE!!! Hello.....check out the information Operation America garnered through countless hours of research and documentation of all this BS!
Can anyone truthfully say its no wonder all these other countries hate our guts!!
Look, y'all, this is getting a tad out of hand. Some nimrod had the gall to call me a "sheep" last night because I addressed such paranoia by bringing up a fair number of issues that this person hadn't thought of or chose to ignore. I'll admit that pissed me off, 'cause anyone who knows me in the slightest would laugh at such a description.
I do NOT like the Federal Government..........pretty much at all. I won't rehash the stale arguments we know to death around here (too damned big; un-Constitutional, etc., etc.). I don't like it when the Fed grows by even one person, let alone the "federalization" of all of those drooling airport security personnel. I like my privacy. I've been successfully homeschooling for nearly 18 years, LONG before it became fashionable, precisely because I didn't trust government and didn't feel that what I do was any of their damned business (in this example, that translated to avoiding that stupid trap of "checking in" or "registering" with the local school board / State). I'm independent as all hell, and I don't want the Feds knowing what I buy, what I make, what I eat, where I bank, or how many times per day I break wind.
I'm also an American.........and we're at war.
Too go**amned many here forget that.
You want security, you want to be protected. You don't want terrorists running around our country wreaking havoc. You want your families to be safe. You don't want any more September 11ths.
You also want all of this in the most free country on earth; a country wherein anyone can wander about unfettered, invisible.
You want it all...........but you sure as all hell don't seem willing to pay the price to see that you get it.
I hear and read all sorts of "experts" here on FR, trumpeting and chest-thumping about the "erosion of" or "assault upon" our rights as citizens. Oh really? What, exactly, do you propose? YOU tell ME exactly how to fight what we're fighting, whom we're fighting, where we're fighting 'em (HINT: it's right here in our backyard) with such measures. TELL ME, experts.
You sumbitch Bush's moves..........fine. Put up an alternative. I'm sure they'd love to hear it / read it. Go ahead; it's no secret that the White House and most members of Congress (or their staffs) frequent this Web site. Tell me just exactly what must be done to identify, track, and capture these bastards in such an environment. Don't even think about telling me how we need to track down all "illegal aliens", because that has been shot down twenty ways from Sunday (one example: We don't have a CLUE where the sumbitches are; so much for our "efficient" INS; so much for that wondrously transparent and mindless idea).
Talk to your parents and grandparents about WWII and what citizens had to "put up with" back here at home to fight enemies half a world away.
I don't like it, but we're at war and as a veteran, I know that war can be hugely "uncomfortable". Your fear is that these "powers" will continue past the time this "war" is declared over in some way??? Then get off your asses and elect people who will help ensure that these laws are sticken from the books when no longer needed, even if the "drop dead clauses" are ignored by subsequent administrations.
I got called a "sheep" for feeling this way...........well, I'll clue y'all: I consider a "sheep" to be someone who's too go**amned afraid to even think that they can have a say in their government and would rather hide behind a keyboard and insult those of us who know better.
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