Taking Liberties: The War on Terror and the Erosion of American Democracy

By Susan N. Herman | Go to book overview

5.
Banks and Databanks

We regret to inform you that we have decided that it is not in our
best interest to continue your banking relationship with us
.—Letter
from Fleet Bank to U.S. citizen Hossam Algabri (2002)

[A]nyone can recognize elements of terror planning.—Air Force
“Eagle Eyes” promotion (2010)

What happened in Vegas stayed in federal data banks.—Barton
Gellman, Washington Post (2005)

WATCHLISTS AND SECURITY screening don’t only apply to travelers. Every time you go to a bank, buy a house, apply for a credit card, purchase life insurance, use a travel agent, or rent a car, the Patriot Act affects you. As a customer you may be lucky enough to be unaware of its impact. Or you might be unlucky, like Hossam Algabri, whose bank account was abruptly terminated because his bank created its own blacklist—perhaps in the hope of avoiding sanctions for not working hard enough to ferret out terrorism financing. And every time you apply for a job or rent an apartment, your prospective employer or landlord risks violating the prohibition of doing business with a blocked person if they don’t know whether or not you are on the “emergency” government blacklist that caused the Muslim charities problems. A more ubiquitous companion of the No Fly list is what might be called the No Buy list.1Post–Patriot Act businesses, especially financial institutions, have been swept up in the War on Terror, as the line between the private sector and government has been erased2 by a pervasive combination of different types of government rules and activities:
1. Financial institutions, very broadly defined, are conscripted as antiterrorism agents, shouldering many duties like Suspicious Activity

-86-

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Taking Liberties: The War on Terror and the Erosion of American Democracy
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • Introduction 3
  • I - Dragnets and Watchlists 21
  • 1 - The Webmaster and the Football Player 23
  • 2 - "Foreign Terrorist Organizations/’ Humanitarians, and the First Amendment 39
  • 3 - Charity at Home 51
  • 4 - Traveling with Terror 66
  • 5 - Banks and Databanks 86
  • II - Surveillance and Secrecy 103
  • 6 - Gutting the Fourth Amendment 105
  • 7 - The Patriot Act and Library/Business Records 121
  • 8 - Gagging the Librarians 136
  • 9 - John Doe and the National Security Letter 150
  • 10 - The President’s Surveillance Program 165
  • III - American Democracy 187
  • 11 - Losing Our Checks and Balances- The President the Congress, and the Courts 189
  • Conclusion 209
  • Notes 219
  • Further Reading 259
  • Photo Credits 263
  • Index 265
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