JACKSON, Miss. (April 14, 2023) – Yesterday, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves signed a bill into law to prohibit financial institutions operating in the state from requiring a credit card merchant code to track the purchases of firearms and ammunition.
Rep. Jansen Owen (R) along with a large coalition of Republicans introduced House Bill 1110 (HB1110) on Jan. 16. Titled the Second Amendment Financial Privacy Act, the 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 Mississippi from general merchandise retailers or sporting goods retailers.
On March 27, the House approved the final version of HB1110 by a 115-0 vote and the Senate approved the measure by a 52-0 vote. On Apr. 13, Gov Reeves signed the bill into law, which goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2024.
HB1110 explains the background for this new law in the legislative findings.
“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 the State of Mississippi, paving the way for both unprecedented surveillance of Second Amendment activity and unprecedented information sharing between financial institutions and the government.”
HB1110 empowers the state attorney general to investigate alleged violations of the law and establishes criminal penalties.
The 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 HB1110. 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
As the legislative findings warn, data collected from this merchant code 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. A credit card merchant code on firearm and ammunition purchases will create another data collection point.
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.
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