Newsweek ran an article a few days ago titled, Unintended Consequences
The author describes how Eliot Spitzer got snagged by the fine print of the Patriot Act. Remember the Spitzer case? That one with the known terrorist plotting to destroy the U.S. government from the inside? No? That is because Spitzer is the guy who was caught paying for a prostitute and then resigned from his job as Governor.
Apparently, it is now common practice for Federal Prosecutors to use the banking data of millions of Americans to look for potential crimes. Not terrorism, like the Patriot Act would suggest, but general white collar stuff.
The new scrutiny resulted in an explosion of SARs, from 204,915 in 2001 to 1.23 million last year. The data, stored in an IRS computer in Detroit, are accessible by law-enforcement agencies nationwide. “Terrorism has virtually nothing to do with it,” says Peter Djinis, a former top Treasury lawyer. “The vast majority of SARs filed today involve garden-variety forms of white-collar crime.” Federal prosecutors around the country routinely scour the SARs for potential leads.
One of those leads led to Spitzer. Last summer New York’s North Fork Bank, where Spitzer had an account, filed a SAR about unusual money transfers he had made, say law-enforcement and industry sources who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the probe. One of the sources tells NEWSWEEK that Spitzer wasn’t flagged because of his public position. Instead, the governor called attention to himself by asking the bank to transfer money in someone else’s name. (A North Fork spokesperson says the bank does not discuss its customers.) The SAR was not itself evidence that Spitzer had committed a crime. But it made the Feds curious enough to follow the money.
When did we become a nation where it is acceptable for the authorities to randomly search databases looking for possible unreported crimes? It seems to me that if the police, FBI, DHS, ETC have nothing better to do than virtual busywork, maybe we should consider cutting back on their numbers. Clearly they have too many people to be busy enough with all the reported crimes.