When most people think of surveillance, they probably think of cameras on street corners, government agencies collecting emails, or smartphones and smart home devices listening to conversations. But there is another form of government and corporate surveillance that gets less attention but is just as prevalent: financial surveillance.
On Episode 12 of The Agenda podcast, Jonathan DeYoung is joined by Marta Belcher, a cryptocurrency and civil liberties attorney who serves as president and chair of the Filecoin Foundation and general counsel and head of policy at Protocol Labs, which helps develop the Filecoin protocol. The two discuss a wide range of topics, from the ins and outs of financial surveillance in the United States to why governments are turning away from cash in favor of central bank digital currencies (CBDCs).
What is financial surveillance, and why does it matter?
To understand how financial surveillance is carried out in the United States, one must first understand the U.S. Constitution. “The Fourth Amendment basically says, if you want to get information about a person in the United States, you as law enforcement have to have a warrant that has to be signed by a judge based on you having probable cause of suspecting them of a crime,” Belcher explained.
However, under what is known as the “third-party doctrine,” the U.S. government holds that any information voluntarily handed over to a “third party” — such as a bank — can be collected without a warrant or probable cause. Given the amount of customer information banks are required to collect under the Bank Secrecy Act, the government winds up with a significant amount of information on the financial lives of everyday citizens.
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“When you think about today’s world, we live our entire lives through third parties. At any given moment in time, we are sending massive amounts of data to all sorts of third parties,” said Belcher.
“The government can get basically any information about us, and it’s rendered the Fourth Amendment useless.”
However, not everyone cares that such vast amounts of information are collected about them — but should they? “As an advocate for privacy and civil liberties, I encounter this common refrain of, ‘Okay, but why should I care?’” Belcher explained. “I have nothing to hide, and I don’t care if the government sees my financial…
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