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Banking on Surveillance: Republicans Investigate Major Banks’ Warrantless Data Sharing with Federal Agencies

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Congressional Republicans are further investigating claims that at least 13 major US banks collaborated with federal agencies to monitor private transactions for signs of “extremism” following the January 6 Capitol events. The House Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government, led by Republican Jim Jordan from Ohio, is delving further into the alleged cooperation between these financial institutions and federal agencies without proper warrants.

These banks, including Bank of America, Chase, US Bank, Wells Fargo, Citi Bank, and more, are among those scrutinized for their roles in the reported surveillance. We previously reported about how Bank of America was found to be handing over data of everyone in the area during the events of January 6, whether they were suspect or not – and whether they had a warrant or not. But now, investigations suggest that the transfer of data was more systematic, potentially involving multiple financial institutions and the Biden administration itself.

Read an example of the letter sent to a bank here.

Already-uncovered information suggests that the Biden administration worked with banks to identify potential “extremism” by monitoring certain purchases such as religious texts like the Bible, or by flagging searches that included terms like “MAGA” and “TRUMP.”

According to the House Judiciary Committee, the probe has now expanded to include additional financial firms: Charles Schwab, HSBC, MUFG, PayPal, Santander, Standard Chartered, and Western Union. Letters sent to these institutions by the committee request documentation and communications with FinCEN (Financial Crimes Enforcement Network) and the FBI to further investigate potential warrantless surveillance.

Concerns about this alleged surveillance extend to Americans’ rights to privacy and freedom of expression. Jim Jordan criticized the federal government’s “backdoor information sharing,” which categorized broad groups of transactions as suspicious or indicative of extremism. In a letter to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, Jordan highlighted that this type of financial monitoring infringes on fundamental civil liberties.

We obtained a copy of the letter the Committee sent to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen here.

Evidence presented to the committee suggests that Bank of America, acting on a memo distributed by FinCEN and the FBI after January 6, provided data on 211 individuals in a Suspicious Activity Report (SAR). The data was shared following a directive from the FBI and FinCEN to banks to monitor specific terms and customer behaviors.

The investigation into these practices has also raised concerns about the impact on ordinary citizens who may be flagged as suspicious without any formal allegations of criminal conduct. Despite these triggers for surveillance, subsequent investigations into those flagged individuals yielded little evidence of illegal activity, with many leads later retracted.

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