Using the Patriot Act in Non-Terror Cases

Michael Isikoff of Newsweek reports on how the Justice Department is using a Patriot Act provision that allows it to obtain financial records of suspected terrorists or money launderers in non-terror cases:

In effect, the Patriot Act allows the Feds to search every financial institution in the country for the records of anybody they have suspicions about -- the very definition, critics say, of a fishing expedition. Law enforcement agencies can submit the name of any suspect to the Treasury Department, which then orders financial institutions across the country to search their records for any matches. If they get a "hit" -- evidence that the person has an account -- the financial institution is slapped with a subpoena for the person's records.

....It's the Patriot Act's money-laundering language that has allowed the Feds
to stretch the way the law can be used. Essentially, money laundering is an effort to disguise illicit profits. But it's such a broad statute that prosecutors can use it in the pursuit of more than 200 different federal crimes, Isikoff reports. Treasury Department figures reviewed by Newsweek show that this year the Feds have used the Patriot Act to conduct searches on 962 suspects, yielding "hits" on 6,397 financial records. Of those, two thirds (4,261) were in money-laundering cases with no terror connection. Among the agencies making requests, Newsweek has learned, were the IRS (which investigates tax fraud), the Postal Service (postal fraud) and the Secret Service counterfeiting). One request came from the Agriculture Department -- a case that apparently involved food stamp fraud.

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