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Big Brother Wants to Watch You Even More

Tuesday, 22 May 2001 12:00 AM

"Be careful to whom you talk on the 'Net or phone,” warns correspondent Mark Ward in a dispatch for BBC News Online Technology. "Soon law enforcement agencies could win sweeping powers to scrutinize the electronic communications” throughout the European Union.

Communications companies would be required to keep records of all phone calls, e-mails, faxes and Internet use for seven years, just in case the police want them for criminal investigations.

Lest you think that’s just Europe’s problem, read on.

Lisa Dean, vice president for technology policy at the Free Congress Foundation, reports that the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) is calling for each of the 28 member nations - including the United States - to increase bank surveillance on customers.

Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill has not moved to calm the fears of privacy advocates who are wary that the OECD proposal might become a reality.

Thanks in large part to the national outrage over OECD efforts to get the U.S. and other "low-tax” countries to keep their taxes high "just to be fair” in competing with the European welfare states, U.S. officials rejected that idea. That probably won’t relieve the pressure from abroad. But it does accord privacy advocates some breathing room.

However, the resourceful bureaucrats in Paris never run out of ideas on how to intrude on U.S. internal matters, especially when the personal privacy of American citizens is concerned.

Two years ago, public outrage caused the feds to back off from a "Know Your Customer” program. That plan would have forced your banker (under penalty of fines, imprisonment, or loss of employment) to monitor your bank accounts to determine "unusual account activity.”

We may have thought it was dead, but like Dracula, it keeps rearing its head and threatening us. Not just through the OECD’s international brainstorms, but through some policies already in place.

The Treasury Department’s investigative arm, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FINcen) estimates that last year, one in five "suspicious activity” reports filed by banks on their customers were related to serious crimes. And 45 percent of those reports involve less than the $10,000 limit required by law enforcement authorities to begin investigations of citizens.

As Lisa Dean observes, that means that "banks are forwarding personal financial records of citizens to federal agencies that couldn’t really investigate even if they wanted to.”

Did your boss give you a big bonus? A relative died and left you some money? That could be deemed "suspicious.”

When NewsMax.com reported the increased use of personal Social Security numbers by medical, banking, and other interests, several readers wrote that the Social Security number has already become a de facto national ID number, part of the very essence of Orwellian nightmares.

Indeed, it appears we have a national ID. We just don’t call it that. This demonstrates the tough job that Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., has staked out for himself in trying to persuade his colleagues on Capitol Hill to embrace his legislation that would make your Social Security number "personal non-public information.”

Can you imagine the tremendous howls of protest from extremely powerful interests if the senator’s legislation ever gets close to passage?

Is "the horse already out of the barn,” so to speak?

Those Americans who think they "have had enough” of the prying eyes here at home, let alone the plans international bureaucrats have for us, may want to consider discussing this with their own senators and congressman. Sending letters of encouragement to Sen. Shelby probably wouldn’t hurt either.

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Be careful to whom you talk on the 'Net or phone," warns correspondent Mark Ward in a dispatch for BBC News Online Technology. Soon law enforcement agencies could win sweeping powers to scrutinize the electronic communications" throughout the European...
Tuesday, 22 May 2001 12:00 AM
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