The Patriot Act, passed back in 2001, requires banks and other financial institutions to send the U.S. Government “suspicious activity reports” regarding Americans’ financial transactions at a dramatically lower standard for what qualifies as “suspicious” and a new emphasis on the use of financial surveillance to keep track of PEPs — “politically exposed persons.” NPR’s Adam Davidson explains:
Banks monitor every transaction. Every one, no matter how small…. The software is checking to see if maybe that $4 is part of a pattern…. The report goes to a bank’s compliance officer, listing all recent suspicious transactions. Every transaction is given a numerical score…. The computer makes the score based on who is making the transaction, where does he come from, who is he associated with, what else is he up to. Every bank customer has, somewhere, in some computer database, a risk assessment score….
It also checks a bunch of lists. Are you on a terror watch list? A list of criminals?… A P.E.P. — banks really do use that term — is anybody with political power. That means a Nigerian General, a U.S. Senator, or, say, the Governor of New York. And any PEP — any Politically Exposed Person — is monitored more carefully.
The government’s latest “SAR Activity Review — By The Numbers” takes available data trend for SARs from as far back as 1996 and adds new numbers for the first six months of 2009.
If the trend continues for the second six months of last year, 2009 will be yet another year seeing record high collection of Americans’ financial information without warrants. This new record rate for the government in collecting Suspicious Activity Reports has been met utterly without mention by the U.S. government’s press offices or by the professional media.