An article from the website Revolver
indicated that the acquisition of customer data
from the Bank of America by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) might have been illegal.
"The government's sweeping list of demands for Bank of America wasn't meant to detect criminal activity. It was meant to identify people simply for attending the rally on Capitol Hill. Most of those people broke no laws whatsoever. Instead, they simply traveled to Washington to show support for President Donald Trump and his efforts to remain in office," the article said.
"The FBI retaliated against this political speech by launching a far-ranging fishing expedition against them, an expedition it knew would rope in many people suspected of no crime at all. This is a direct attack on the First Amendment, in violation of existing Supreme Court precedent."
The relevant Supreme Court case the article was referring to was the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) v. Alabama in 1958.
Alabama Attorney General John Patterson was harassing the NAACP at the time in an effort to make it cease its bus boycott and civil rights activities in the state. He demanded the NAACP to hand over the names and addresses of its members, along with other information like its bank statements.
The Supreme Court ruled that "Alabama, by demanding the identities of people who were organizing for controversial political purposes, was inherently mounting an attack on their constitutional rights. Demands for information must be linked with explicit, alleged criminal behavior or else wholly detached from the exercise of constitutional rights."
The provisions of federal law that allow financial records to be turned over to the government are limited. The Revolver
article noted that the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution explicitly protects the "persons, houses, papers and effects" of Americans from all "unreasonable searches and seizures."
According to the article, a financial institution is only allowed to give customer information only if the particular customer is believed to be breaking the law. Even then, the financial information of that customer couldn't be turned over. The institution could only inform the federal government of the person's name and the crime it believes it has evidence of.
Bank of America could not possibly have such evidence about its customers because the activities it reported to the federal government were legal.
On the other hand, the government must present a written request, a subpoena or a warrant to get private financial information. The account owner must be notified in case they wish to contest having his or her information handed over.
Apparently, the Bank of America was simply contacted by the FBI and replied by handing over the personal information of its customers. (Related: Yes, the deep state is real… and it’s watching you: FBI caught running 3.1 million covert searches of U.S. citizens in latest abuse of power.
Bank of America in the spotlight following revelation
Tucker Carlson of Fox News
revealed in his opinion article on Feb. 4 that Bank of America handed over customer data to the FBI following the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.
He said that his show "Tucker Carlson Tonight" has exclusively obtained evidence
that Bank of America is actively but secretly engaged in the hunt for extremists in cooperation with the government.
"Bank of America is, without the knowledge or the consent of its customers, sharing private information with federal law enforcement agencies. Bank of America effectively is acting as an intelligence agency, but they're not telling you about it," Carlson wrote.
Bank of America is the second-largest bank in the country with more than 60 million customers and over $2 trillion assets, next only to JPMorgan Chase.
According to Carlson, the bank combed through its own customers' financial and transaction records in search of people that fit a certain profile.
"These were the private records of Americans who had committed no crime; people who, as far as we know, had absolutely nothing to do with what happened at the Capitol. But at the request of federal investigators, Bank of America searched its databases looking for people who fit a specific profile," Carlson wrote.
The bank searched for customers who have made a confirmed transaction either through bank account debit card or credit card purchases in Washington, D.C. between Jan. 5 and Jan. 6; made a purchase for hotel/Airbnb RSVPs in Washington, D.C., Virginia and Maryland after Jan. 6; purchased weapons or anything at a weapons-related merchant between Jan. 7 and their upcoming suspected stay in Washington, D.C. area around inauguration day; or made airline-related purchases since Jan. 6.
Carlson pointed out that the profile is "remarkably broad."
"Any purchases of anything in Washington, D.C.; any overnight stay anywhere in an area spanning three jurisdictions and hundreds of miles; any purchase not just of legal firearms, but anything bought from a "weapons-related merchant," T-shirts included; and any airline-related purchases – not just flights to Washington, but flights to anywhere, from Omaha to Thailand. That is an absurdly wide net," he wrote.
But with the coronavirus pandemic limiting purchases and transactions of people, that wide net only caught 211 customers. Bank of America turned over the results of its internal scan to federal authorities, apparently without notifying those customers that fit the profile.
Federal investigators had interviewed and cleared at least one of the 211.
Carlson's report has triggered outrage among customers and the general public whose privacy and private information have become increasingly vulnerable.
Many have tweeted their displeasure and some said they would close their Bank of America account immediately.
A spokesperson for Bank of America said the bank would not comment on its communications with law enforcement.
"All banks have responsibilities under federal law to cooperate with law enforcement inquiries in full compliance with the law," the spokesperson said.
The Bank Secrecy Act requires banks to notify law enforcement to "deter and detect money laundering, terrorist financing and other criminal acts and the misuse of our nation's financial institutions."
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