Senate GOP to Treasury: Why Urge Banks to ‘Surveil Customer’ Transactions ‘Using Politically Charged Search Terms?’
“…the agency suggested in January 2021 that banks use specific search terms to query transactions, including ‘MAGA,’ ‘Trump,’ ‘Biden,’ and more, along with merchant codes from specific sporting goods stores.”
Senate Banking Committee Chairman Tim Scott wants the Treasury Department to explain why it encouraged banks to surveil customers who used “politically charged search terms” in their transactions:
Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., penned a letter to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and FinCEN [Treasury’s financial crimes enforcement division] Director Andrea Gacki on Friday after Fox News Digital exclusively reported that the agency suggested in January 2021 that banks use specific search terms to query transactions, including “MAGA,” “Trump,” “Biden,” and more, along with merchant codes from specific sporting goods stores.
“I write regarding recent reporting that the U.S. Treasury Department (Treasury) through its Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) urged private financial institutions to surveil customers’ transaction-level data using politically charged search terms, in order to flag certain customer profiles on behalf of Federal law enforcement,” Scott wrote in the letter, obtained by Fox News Digital. “These allegations, if true, represent a flagrant violation of Americans’ privacy and the improper targeting of U.S. citizens for exercising their constitutional rights without due process.”
Fox News obtained documents from the House Judiciary Committee showing how the Treasury Department’s Office of Stakeholder Integration and Engagement in the Strategic Operations of the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) gave banks and financial institutions materials spelling out who to surveil and what political terms to flag in transactions.
It all started after January 6, 2021.
What happened on January 6? The Capitol Hill Riot.
The materials also told the banks and financial institutions to look out for purchases of religious texts and subscriptions to anything that contains “extremist views.”
The materials included a document recommending the use of generic terms like “Trump” and “MAGA” to “search Zelle payment messages” as well as a “prior FinCEN analysis” of “Lone Actor/Homegrown Violent Extremism Indicators.”
“According to this analysis, FinCEN warned financial institutions of ‘extremism’ indicators that include ‘transportation charges, such as bus tickets, rental cars, or plane tickets, for travel areas with no apparent purpose,’ or ‘the purchase of books (including religious texts) and subscriptions to other media containing extremist views,’” [Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim] Jordan detailed in a letter to the former director of FinCEN, Noah Bishoff, a career employee.
“In other words, FinCEN used large financial institutions to comb through the private transactions of their customers for suspicious charges on the basis of protected political and religious expression,” Jordan wrote.
The treasury provided MCC codes (merchant category codes) to investigate the transactions. Those included “3484: Small Arms” and “5091: Sporting and Recreational Goods and Supplies.”
The keywords? Those included Cabela’s, Dick’s Sporting Goods, and Bass Pro Shops.
What do those stores sell?
“These allegations are particularly concerning given past efforts to weaponize the financial system and payment activity against politically disfavored, lawful activity,” Scott wrote. “Under the Obama administration’s ‘Operation Choke Point’ initiative, the Department of Justice (DOJ) coordinated with federal financial regulators to intimidate financial institutions into denying services to legitimate businesses that the administration was ideologically opposed to, including gun retailers.”
Scott said that “the weaponization and misuse of MCC codes is not a new issue either,” saying members of Congress have recently raised concerns about the potential to “surveil the free exercise of lawful activity using an MCC code—the same concern is at issue here.”
“Federal government efforts to target individuals and entities based on their political views is a blatant and egregious violation of our Constitution,” Scott wrote. “Additionally, reported actions like these disrupt confidence in federal law enforcement and raise significant questions regarding the independence of federal financial regulators.”
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