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Honorable Mark Sanford

Representing the 1st District of South Carolina

Vote Notes: H.R. 5783, The Cooperate with Law Enforcement Agencies and Watch Act of 2018

Jul 5, 2018
Blog Post

Continued catch up on votes…

Last week, the House voted on H.R. 5783, or the Cooperate with Law Enforcement Agencies and Watch Act of 2018, which would provide legal safe harbor for banks that, at the request of law enforcement, keep a suspicious customer’s account open so authorities can monitor the account for potentially illicit activity. I voted for the bill, and it passed 397-4. The decision to aide law enforcement in an investigation should not be skewed by the possibility of being prosecuted for doing so...if law enforcement has first taken the key steps necessary in the preservation of civil liberty.

Namely, that they act under probable cause, and they have a warrant.

It’s as simple but all important distinction.
Too much of what is considered of late in bills tied to surveillance or law enforcement has skipped these two simple steps and gone for information without the safeguards that the Founding Fathers built into protecting our personal effects.

This is the long and the short of why I could vote yes on this bill...and yet have opposed many other bills that didn’t take these two simple steps.

The logistics of the bill I’ll lay out below...but there’s always a good explanation for any of the things that law enforcement needs.

Under the Bank Secrecy Act, financial institutions are required to actively police their customer accounts to ensure they are not being used for potentially illegal purposes, such as money laundering, drug running, or financing of terrorism. Often times, when suspicious activity is detected in a customer’s account, a bank will simply close that account in order to ensure it is fully complying with the Bank Secrecy Act.

However, in some instances, law enforcement entities will request that a bank keep a suspicious account open so it can be monitored as part of an ongoing investigation. Under current law, banks can still be punished under the Bank Secrecy Act for allowing suspicious activity to take place in a customer’s account, despite having received such a request from law enforcement.

This conflict makes the decision of whether or not to aide law enforcement a difficult one. Many bank managers simply decide to err on the side of caution and not cooperate with law enforcement, which obviously complicates any related ongoing investigation. Today’s bill eliminates this confusion by clarifying that banks will not be prosecuted under the Bank Secrecy Act for keeping a suspicious customer account open at the request of law enforcement.

I support making this clarification because doing the right thing and aiding law enforcement should not mean having to put yourself at risk of legal prosecution. And therefore, these kinds of clarifying bills make good sense when probable cause and a warrant are the gateway to law enforcement query.

Let me add one postscript though that explains why four Republican colleagues voted no on this bill. They didn’t have objection to the bill itself...they objected to the Bank Secrecy Act. This act was foundational to the larger issue being discussed. It requires banks notify federal regulators whenever a customer makes a deposit or withdrawal greater than $10,000, or when a customer repeatedly makes deposits or withdrawals just short of $10,000. One could argue that this provision allows for a giant warrantless search of people’s banking activities based on the ten thousand dollar tripwire. This is true and is worthy of a fix...but it wasn’t what H.R. 5783 was about, and accordingly I voted as I did.