Carlson: Bank of America spied on its own customers after the Capitol riot

Could it be because they are responding to a warrant and/or a subpoena? “Bank of America is effectively acting as an intelligence agency,” Tucker Carlson declared on air last night after revealing that the bank has conducted profile searches to identify potential participants in the Capitol riot. Carlson reports that Bank of America went through its customer data with specific search criteria that would flag individuals that would have been in the Washington DC area, which could narrow the pool of suspects for the FBI and other agencies investigating the attack on Congress.

“At the request of federal investigators” is the key here, however:

“Tucker Carlson Tonight” has exclusively obtained evidence that Bank of America, the second-largest bank in the country with more than 60 million customers, is actively but secretly engaged in the hunt for extremists in cooperation with the 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.

“At the request of federal investigators” makes it clear that BofA didn’t just decide to go into the spy business on its own. The question is now what kind of a request we’re discussing. If all the FBI did was ask for this information, then BofA customers have a legit gripe about protecting their information from unconstitutional prying. If the FBI had a warrant or a subpoena for the information, however, then the issue isn’t BofA’s, and they didn’t conduct any “spying.”

The Fox News article on this doesn’t discuss warrants or subpoenas. Neither does Carlson, who focuses more on the broad nature of the profile being searched. Even so, only 211 customers met those parameters, and Carlson criticizes the bank for “ratting you out to the feds without telling you,” and says “you’re being treated like a member of al-Qaeda.” But if the FBI had a warrant or a subpoena for that data, then BofA would have been required to comply with it or fight it in court.

As far as the al-Qaeda reference, let’s recall that the Patriot Act allowed for broad access to corporate records — telecoms, primarily, but financial transactions as well — to identify potential terrorists. That idea was broadly popular at the time, especially with conservatives, and is still fairly popular now with more restrictions. That authority rests with the FBI when dealing with domestic plots and crimes, and the FBI is certainly treating the Capitol riot as a potential seditious plot — political terrorism of a domestic variety, in other words. Civil libertarians did warn about that potential with the Patriot Act when it was first passed and every time it came up for renewal.

That doesn’t mean this isn’t worth discussing now, but this looks incomplete in more than one way. Bank of America would almost certainly not just cough up this data without first seeing a subpoena or warrant to protect itself from lawsuits down the line. And if the FBI went to Bank of America for this kind of data, you can bet it’s not the only bank doors on which they knocked.

Update: In my previous career, I dealt with requests from law enforcement for customer data on a regular basis. My policy and my companies’ policies was that any such request come in the form of a warrant or a subpoena, and when it did, we would fully cooperate. Law enforcement had no trouble producing either form of “request.” And that wasn’t even in the Patriot Act era. I find it difficult-to-well-nigh-impossible to believe that BofA would have granted that kind of access without covering its legal rear end in the same way.