Biden Administration’s Jan. 6 Surveillance Targets Financial Freedom

On Friday, the Biden administration officially acknowledged using the financial system to monitor Americans without constitutionally required warrants or probable cause following the events of January 6, 2021.

A letter from the Treasury to Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) confirms the use of politically loaded terms like “MAGA” and “Trump” in banking surveillance efforts. The move, ostensibly aimed at identifying participants in allegedly illegal activities on Jan. 6, has sparked outrage over the legality of such warrantless surveillance.

The Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) played a pivotal role in this operation by advising banks to flag transactions using specific keywords. FinCEN provided the search terms directly to financial institutions, which included terms they believed could be tied to criminal activity —- many of which associated only with purely political and religious expressions.

According to Scott, the surveillance strategy represents an egregious violation of the principle that citizens should not be targeted for exercising their constitutional freedoms without due process. Despite the administration’s justification that this surveillance was legal and intended to secure national security, the breadth of the keywords used — including those related to purchasing religious texts or visiting certain retail outlets — suggests even a more expansive sweep than previously acknowledged.

Documents obtained by House committees have shed light on the extent of this surveillance, indicating that financial institutions were instructed to use a wide array of search terms. The financial spying included monitoring purchases from stores like Bass Pro Shop and subscriptions to media labeled as containing “extremist views.”

Financial surveillance in this context has drawn parallels to previous administrations’ efforts to leverage financial institutions against politically disfavored groups. The Jan. 6 surveillance methods recall “Operation Choke Point,” a similarly unconstitutional system that sought to exclude multiple legal businesses from the banking system based only on political alignment.

While the Treasury asserts that its actions were in accordance with the law, the revelation that banks were prompted to search for specific political and religious terms is expected to ignite renewed debate over privacy and free speech.

Whether the judicial system will take affirmative steps to prevent the administrative state and the executive branch from blatantly disregarding the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches and seizures remains to be seen.