While everyone was focused on the latest Black Lives Matter protests, Congress came “this close” to passing a bill which would have greatly expanded the Patriot Act. House Bill 5606, otherwise known as the “Anti-terrorism Information Sharing Is Strength Act,” (an Orwellian title if there ever was one) won a majority vote Monday but needed a super-majority to get out of the House without going through the committee process. The law made a change to the Patriot Act on what financial information is given to the feds by banks and other financial institutions. There are going to be people who don’t have a problem with this, but it’s important to look at what was being changed.
Sense of Congress
It is the sense of the Congress that, in furtherance of efforts to stop the financing of terror and other forms of illicit financing through increased sharing of information, and consistent with the need to prevent inappropriate dissemination of such information—
Federal law enforcement agencies and regulators should share information about terrorist activities, money laundering activities, and other specified unlawful activities (as defined under section 1956(c)(7) of title 18, United States Code) to the fullest extent possible and in a timely fashion; and
financial institutions, including nonbank financial institutions, should share information about such acts and activities with each other to the fullest extent possible and in a timely fashion.
There’s no reason for banks or other financial institutions just to hand over information to the federal government without a warrant which can be viewed by the one being investigated. Due process exists for a reason, and people should be secure in their ability to conduct commerce overseas. This bill could have allowed the feds information on your bank account, if you happened to buy something from a foreign business online or over the phone, or if you sent money to a relative overseas. Michigan Republican Congressman Justin Amash and the House Liberty Caucus expressed similar concerns. Via The Hill:
“The Patriot Act should not be casually expanded,” the caucus said in a statement. “In short, if the regulations issued under the bill are consistent with current regulations, H.R. 5606 will permit the government to demand information on any American from any financial institution merely upon reasonable suspicion.”
Supporters of the measure are obviously disappointed and trying to spin the bill a different way.
HR 5606 helps clarify the current illicit finance laws and provides corrections to ensure that our current laws work as initially intended.
— Congressman Robert Pittenger (@RepPittenger) July 11, 2016
It’s unfortunate and also unsurprising to see Congress try to do this. It all falls under the idea of “maintaining law and order,” even if our constitutionally guaranteed freedoms get squashed in the process. The fact the bill had bipartisan support is also disturbing, and unsurprising, because it gives politicians the chance to go back to their districts and claim like some fake police badge carrying grifter, “Look at what I did! Don’t you feel more safe?” while they scope out a home for valuables to pilfer later. It’s ridiculous and the fact both sides of the aisle are doing it is even more frustrating. It’s also not surprising the bill was introduced during a time when all eyes aren’t on Washington, but on Baton Rouge, Dallas, and St. Paul. It’s almost a perfect smoke screen to slip things through, and it’s fantastic the bill failed to pass.
The bad news is it can still be introduced, and sent through the normal committee process. This means there’s still a chance it could get through the House, if civil libertarians in Congress aren’t able to fight it. It also shows how authoritarians will use any means necessary to try to pass things, even when it means they have to rely on Americans to be focused on summer activities and other issues which may have popped up. Thankfully, people like Amash and Thomas Massie are in Congress to let Americans know when their freedoms are threatened under the claim of “security.”