Think back 5 years to the case of Eliot Spitzer, who then was Governor of New York and a rising political star. Some said he should run for President, but then Spitzer’s political career came to an end. When the U.S. government found out that Spitzer had been consorting with prostitutes, Governor Spitzer left office in shame.
Hold to the side for a moment whether you believe Eliot Spitzer’s activities were moral and consider how those activities were uncovered. As you may not know, Spitzer’s activities were uncovered thanks to surveillance of Spitzer that occurred without a warrant or any prior suspicion of wrongdoing on Spitzer’s part. Whether or not Spitzer’s extramarital liaisons were proper, the surveillance of Spitzer was constitutionally improper, at least under a literal reading of the 4th Amendment to the Constitution, 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.
This surveillance of a person’s papers and effects occurred occurred, regardless of the constitution, without a warrant or pre-existing probable cause. It happens all the time, with the federal government tasking banks and other financial institutions across the country to engage in surveillance as a matter of routine and pass on “suspicious activity reports” for government review. As Adam Davidson of NPR reported back in 2008:
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.
Eliot Spitzer’s financial activities brought him down, generating a “suspicious activity report” that brought the force of the government down. Here’s the first page of his SAR:
Further excerpts of Spitzer’s SAR get into explicit detail:
How can I be sharing these details with you when these details are supposed to be strictly confidential? The answer is that this sort of information leaks out from the government into the public, making all the information collected in bank surveillance not just a matter between a bank and a client, not just a matter between a bank, a client, and the government, but potentially a matter open to anybody.
The government-mandated warrantless surveillance that resulted in Governor Spitzer’s fall took place in 2007 and 2008, under the administration of President George W. Bush. Now that President Barack Obama and his Democratic Party colleagues are in control of executive branch of government, surely all this surveillance activity must have decreased, mustn’t it? After all, according to popular opinion Democrats hold individual civil liberty in greater respect than Republicans.
New data released by the Treasury Department this week show otherwise. Under President Barack Obama, the number of suspicious activity reports to the federal government rose in 2012 to a new record high.
Postscript: The chances are good that you haven’t heard about this news from anywhere else. Only two news outlets, none of them a major print newspaper — Housing Wire and Mortgage Daily — made any report on these new statistics since they’ve been released.
If you think other Americans should know about this then you can’t sit on your hands; it’s up to you to help spread the word. Otherwise, this expansion of surveillance will float quietly down the Memory Hole.