Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Patriot Act: How it effects you

I found this to be an enlightening article in the American Chronicle about ways in which the the Patriot Act could have an effect on consumers, most notably in terms of financial transactions. I don't think I'm going out on a limb by saying this topic has received very little coverage or attention in the press, despite some of the Act's far reaching privacy implications.

Michael Webster details some of the provisions:

There are significant flaws in the Patriot Act, flaws that threaten your fundamental freedoms by giving the government the power to access your medical records, tax records, information about the books you buy or borrow without probable cause, and the power to break your door down at your home and conduct unconstitutional searches or if your not home search your home or business in secret without telling you for weeks, months, or even indefinitely.


The current act encourages financial institutions to collect certain data to identify customers and their transactions in case any of the activity should be flagged as "suspicious" by a government agency. "Suspicious" in most cases means involving any foreign nationals or corporations. The Patriot Act considers any such accounts or transactions worthy of intense scrutiny. (Although the scrutiny will, of course, be more severe for certain nationalities than for others.)

What if you are a US-born, US citizen, do not have any arrest record, and are not involved in any type of criminal activity? If you´d just like to open a bank account or engage in another banking transaction, can a bank force you to provide your social security number? How about fingerprinting you? Is either of these strictly required by law? Not exactly – although if you do not wish to provide your social security number you will have to obtain an alternate taxpayer identification number.

This information (along with your name, address, and date of birth) is used as part of the required Customer Identification Program (CIP) used to verify customer identity (and to compare customer information with lists of known terrorist suspects). Such information may also be required by other money service businesses such as currency exchanges. All having the effect of the financial institution acting as agent to and for the US Government. Fingerprints are not a requirement of the Patriot Act, and they are certainly not required by all financial institutions – so if your bank insists on this procedure, you may wish to take your business elsewhere.

Click here to read the article in its entirety.

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