Front Page















Prying Eyes, Round Two - August 18, 2000

By James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.
contributor to

A little more than one year ago, there was an attempt in Congress to turn bank executives into dutiful informants.

It seems that government officials want precious information about our individual, personal patterns of finance. In fact, they want it so badly that despite an initially resounding defeat of some incredibly meddlesome regulations they are trying for a second time.

The original proposal was heralded as the "Know Your Customer" rules. But Americans who cherish liberty weren't about to be hoodwinked, particularly when it came to the invasion of their financial profiles. A coalition of 300,000 ordinary people from all parts of the political spectrum banded together to preserve a vital component of the Constitution, and they succeeded in stopping the measure cold.

Challengers celebrated its failure to pass, not only because an illicit and intrusive mechanism had been halted, but more so because a sinister effort was terminated through bold expression of citizen action.

The victory celebration, though, may have been premature. Know Your Customer is paying a visit once again, but this time it is sporting a new look.

H.R. 3886, an anti-money laundering bill entitled International Counter-Money Laundering and Foreign Anticorruption Act of 2000, is its most recent attempt at disguise. Although the champion of liberty, Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, tried valiantly to attach some pro-privacy amendments to the bill, he has of yet been unsuccessful.

The bill's title and content are designed to convince the public that the presumed target is the international banking community. But, if passed, discretion and power to expand regulations so that they encompass all banking transactions will be granted to the Secretary of the Treasury, and no further approval from Congress will be needed.

It appears as though this legislative maneuver will be portrayed, at least initially, as a basic method of dealing with international transactions. That way the average person on the street will remain unconcerned and, most likely, uninvolved.

Supporters of the initiative could get the legislation passed first and save the task of expanding it for a later date. Essentially, the Know Your Customer regulations that irate citizens had previously opposed could silently slip into law through a cleverly designed trap door.

One would ordinarily be surprised that our representatives would try to pass the same kind of legislation after the chilly reception they received from their constituents the first time around. Perhaps they believe that it would be more difficult for advocates of individual liberty to rally the same degree of support, since attachment of an international label provides such a tidy distraction.

But Americans must prove these misguided legislators wrong if the notion of privacy is to be sustained. Limited government is based upon unalienable rights that emanate from a divine source. Government is charged with securing those rights. The rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, as stated in the Declaration of Independence, and the rights of life, liberty and property, as enumerated in the Constitution, can only flourish when government is restrained.

Underlying our foundational structure is a simple yet exquisite maxim born of a hands-off philosophy: Whenever possible, leave the citizen alone.

Traditionally, our body of law has viewed personal financial information as an area of privacy requiring even greater protection. Those who believe that government should have more depth and scope of authority have demonstrated an intense persistence in pursuit of their goals. The public would be well served to reassemble the coalition that defeated the original Know Your Customer operation. Our representatives need to know, whether hidden by dark brush or shrouded away in a high rise office building, America hates a snoop.

Reproduced with the permission of . All rights reserved

Copyright © 2000
James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.

All Rights Reserved