Yesterday, Idaho Gov. Brad Little signed a bill into law prohibiting financial institutions from using Merchant Category Codes (MCC) to identify or track firearms purchases.
The Senate State Affairs Committee introduced House Bill 295 (H295) on March 9. Titled the “Second Amendment Financial Privacy Act,” the new law prohibits a financial institution or its agent from requiring the usage of a firearms code in a way that distinguishes a firearms retailer physically located in the state of Idaho from Idaho general merchandise retailers or sporting goods retailers.
The legislative findings in H295 explain the background for this proposed law.
In September 2022, the world’s three (3) largest payment card networks publicly announced they would assign a unique merchant category code to firearm retailers accepting payment cards for purchases, after twenty-eight (28) members of congress sent a public letter to networks, pressuring them to adopt the new code. In the letter to payment card networks, federal lawmakers stated that the new merchant category code for firearms retailers would be ‘the first step towards facilitating the collection of valuable financial data that could help law enforcement in countering the financing of terrorism efforts,’ expressing a clear government expectation that networks will utilize the new merchant category code to conduct mass surveillance of constitutionally protected firearms and ammunition purchases in cooperation with law enforcement.
H295 empowers the state attorney general to investigate alleged violations of the law and establishes criminal penalties.
The new law also prohibits a state governmental agency or local government, special district, or other political subdivision or official, agent, or employee of the state or other governmental entity or any other person, public or private, from knowingly and willfully keeping any list, record, or registry of privately owned firearms or any list, record, or registry of the owners of those firearms unless it is in the regular course of a criminal investigation or prosecution.
The three major credit card companies have “paused” development of the firearms merchant code, but only because of state bills like H295. In an email to Reuters, a Mastercard representative said such bills would cause “inconsistency” in how the code could be applied by merchants, banks and payment networks. The more states that ban such codes, the more likely this program gets scrapped altogether.
IMPACT ON FEDERAL PROGRAMS
Concern about the misuse of firearms databases isn’t just paranoia. The Taliban has reportedly used a firearm ownership database created by the U.S. government to track down gun owners and confiscate firearms in Afghanistan. This goes to show that even if you trust the people creating the database, it can fall into the wrong hands. In other words, the very existence of a database is a danger.
The feds can share and tap into vast amounts of information gathered at the state and local level through fusion centers and a system known as the “information sharing environment” or ISE.
Fusion centers were sold as a tool to combat terrorism, but that is not how they are being used. The ACLU pointed to a bipartisan congressional report to demonstrate the true nature of government fusion centers: “They haven’t contributed anything meaningful to counterterrorism efforts. Instead, they have largely served as police surveillance and information sharing nodes for law enforcement efforts targeting the frequent subjects of police attention: Black and brown people, immigrants, dissidents, and the poor.”
Fusion centers operate within the broader ISE. According to its website, the ISE “provides analysts, operators, and investigators with information needed to enhance national security. These analysts, operators, and investigators…have mission needs to collaborate and share information with each other and with private sector partners and our foreign allies.” In other words, ISE serves as a conduit for the sharing of information gathered without a warrant. Known ISE partners include the Office of Director of National Intelligence which oversees 17 federal agencies and organizations, including the NSA. ISE utilizes these partnerships to collect and share data on the millions of unwitting people they track.
In practice, local data collection using ALPRs, stingrays, drones and other spy technologies create the potential for the federal government to obtain and store information on millions of Americans including phone calls, emails, web browsing history, location history, and text messages, all with no warrant, no probable cause, and without the people even knowing it.
In a nutshell, without state and local assistance, the feds have a much more difficult time gathering information. When the state limits surveillance and data collection, it means less information the feds can tap into. This represents a major blow to the surveillance state and a win for privacy.
Source: Tenth Amendment Center
TJ Martinell is an author, writer, and award-winning reporter from Washington state. His dystopian novel The Stringers depicting a neo-Prohibition Era in the city of Seattle is available on Amazon.
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