They say we all have something to hide, something about us that we’d rather not have aired in public. Remember Eliot Spitzer, Governor of New York? His political career came to an end after the government collected and analyzed Suspicious Activity Reports. Spitzer’s financial transactions brought his extramarital activity to light. Set aside for the moment whether you consider extramarital sexual liaisons to be proper, and think about the fact that the U.S. government obtained this information about Eliot Spitzer without a warrant or any suspicion of wrongdoing on Spitzer’s part. That’s clearly unconstitutional under the 4th Amendment, which declares:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
It’s clearly unconstitutional, and yet it goes on all the time, thanks to the government’s increasingly broad “national security” argument. We are all in grave danger, the argument goes, and to keep us safe from these supposed grave dangers the government insists upon “balancing” constitutional protections of Americans’ rights against the government’s desire for knowledge. This is why maintaining fear is so important; without it, the government’s argument falls apart.
With the passage of the Patriot Act during the Bush administration, warrantless financial surveillance of Americans skyrocketed. Now the presidential administration of Barack Obama has decided that it’s time to ramp up surveillance some more. The Obama administration has announced plans to require warrantless surveillance of all Americans’ international financial transactions, whether or not there is any suspicion of wrongdoing.
Why? Department of Treasury Financial Crimes Enforcement Network spokesman Steve Hudak explains:
Current investigations mainly look at individual trees. Using this data, FinCEN, and others, will be able to see the forest. With this data, we’ll be able to establish baseline numbers so we can then spot what’s abnormal and suspicious.
Did you catch that? The U.S. Government wants to put everybody in the whole “forest” under surveillance so FinCEN — “and others” — can follow and understand what normal people do. Don’t worry, you’re in grave danger, and you’re being watched for your own protection.