Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Goldwater Institute: Financial Privacy is Common Cents

Government should have warrant to look at private accounts 
By Benjamin Barr

What's the value of your financial privacy? You know, things like your checking account and banking records. For most of us, the less others know, the better. That's why it comes as such a surprise that Arizona rates near the bottom of states when it comes to protecting financial privacy.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, Arizona is the number one state for identity theft. And a private research firm reports that one in six Arizona adults had their identity stolen in the past five years. So it was a good first step when the Arizona Legislature passed legislation in 2007 to limit the release of personal information available in public records. This legislation protected against sensitive information like social security numbers being released by government bodies.

However, it's not just identity thieves Arizonans should be worried about. Government employees are legally allowed to access the personal financial records of citizens. Most states protect against potential abuse of this law, but Arizona does not.

The state legislature is currently considering a simple step to remedy this. Representative Sam Crump introduced HB 2375 to require government bodies to demonstrate probable cause to obtain a warrant should they wish to search or seize financial records. Requiring probable cause isn't a new concept; it's what we ordinarily ask government to do before it delves into our private affairs.

The idea of demanding probable cause, or some justifiable excuse, before the government can pry into your financial records isn't exactly revolutionary. The American tradition purposefully safeguards citizens from government intrusion. That doesn't stop the police or investigators from doing their jobs. It only requires government to respect basic constitutional rights and the privacy of citizens.

Benjamin Barr is a Goldwater Institute Senior Fellow in Constitutional Studies. A longer version of this article originally appeared in the Arizona Republic.

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