SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (Mar. 10, 2023) – A bill introduced in the Illinois House would prohibit financial institutions from disclosing information gathered using a credit card merchant code to track the purchases of firearms and ammunition in most situations.
Rep. Brad Halbrook (R) introduced House Bill 3840 (HB3840) on Feb. 17. Titled the Second Amendment Privacy Act, the proposed law would prohibit a financial institution from disclosing a customer’s “protected financial information” when purchasing a firearm or ammunition unless one of the following conditions apply.
- Disclosure is expressly permitted by law and the protected financial information is not singled out, segregated, or disclosed based on the assignment of a firearms code;
- Disclosure is made pursuant to a valid warrant issued in a criminal investigation, stating the grounds or probable cause for its issuance;
- The customer has consented to disclosure;
- Disclosure is made in response to a subpoena meeting the requirements of this Act.
“Protected financial information” is defined as “any record of a sale, purchase, return, or refund involving a payment card that is retrieved, characterized, generated, labeled, sorted, or grouped based on the assignment of a firearms code.”
The bill provides that a customer may bring a civil action for damages against any financial institution or government entity that causes the customer’s protected financial information to be disclosed in violation of the act.
In September 2022, the International Standards Organization, based in Switzerland, approved a new merchant category code for firearm and ammunition merchants. 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. The new Merchant Category Code will allow the banks, payment card networks, acquirers, and other entities involved in payment card processing to identify and separately track lawful payment card purchases at firearms retailers in Illinois.
IMPACT ON FEDERAL PROGRAMS
Data collected from firearms merchant codes would almost certainly end up in federal government databases.
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 track the movement of millions of Americans, and obtain and store information on millions of Americans, including phone calls, emails, web browsing 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.
HB3840 was referred to the House Financial Institutions and Licensing Committee, where it was scheduled for a hearing on Mar. 7. It must pass the committee by a majority vote before moving forward in the legislative process.
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