Know your snitch

Critics from all points of the political spectrum have joined in opposition to proposed federal regulations that would transform the nation’s banks into a network of snitches for the United States government.

The proposed "Know Your Customer" plan, first released last December, has ignited a firestorm of criticism from thousands of citizens and such groups as the Libertarian Party and the American Civil Liberties Union.

Under the proposed guidelines issued by the U.S. Treasury Department, "... the regulation would require each bank to develop a program designed to determine the identity of its customers; determine its customers’ sources of funds; determine the normal and expected transactions of its customers; monitor account activity for transactions that are inconsistent with those normal and expected transactions; and report any transactions of its customers that are determined to be suspicious ...

"By requiring banks to determine the identity of their customers, as well as to obtain knowledge regarding the legitimate activities of their customers, the proposed regulation will reduce the likelihood that banks will become unwitting participants in illicit activities conducted or attempted by their customers."

The ACLU’s Barry Steinhardt told the Scripps Howard News Service that the controversy over "know-your-customer" rules is part of a larger set of issues in which government works with private sources to collect, computerize and centralize data on Americans, all for seemingly legal purposes.

Identical regulations are being considered for adoption by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Office of Thrift Supervisor, Federal Reserve, and Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, meaning every banking institution in the country will be forced to comply with the regulations if adopted.

The plan, if approved, is scheduled to take effect in April 2000.

Along with broad opposition from the general public, there is mounting concern in Congress as well. Eleven members of the House banking committee have signed a letter to the FDIC saying they oppose the proposed regulations and are prepared to fight them. Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.) has introduced three bills intended to counteract the regulations if they are approved.

More information about the issue is at

Deadline for public comment is March

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