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Human trafficking — illegally transporting people from one country or area to another, typically for the purposes of forced labor or commercial sexual exploitation — is a horrific practice plaguing countries across the globe. Lawmakers should be looking to enact measures that help to end human trafficking. But these laws should not force innocent Americans to give up their constitutional rights.
That’s one fatal flaw of HR 6729: It does not strike the correct balance between public safety and civil liberties. Congress was wrong to pass the bill on Sept. 26.
The bill would require the Treasury Department to develop regulations that force nonprofit organizations, banks and law enforcement agencies to share information that may be related to possible human trafficking or money laundering activities.
That sounds straightforward enough. But dig a little deeper and it’s clear HR 6729 threatens the right to privacy of innocent people.
Law enforcement already has the power to request information that could assist in an investigation from nonprofits and banks. In the current system, the courts determine whether law enforcement has a good reason to acquire private information — in accordance with the Fourth Amendment.
HR 6729 disregards that process, replacing the court’s judgement with that of bureaucrats. This increases the possibility that law-abiding citizens could have their accounts shut down after doing nothing wrong.
Language in the bill is similar to language in the Patriot Act, which was designed to target terrorism, not human trafficking. The Patriot Act created a wireless surveillance state that has presented a threat to civil liberties. Expanding surveillance through another bill is not in America’s best interest.
If HR 6729 becomes law, the government will likely have easy access to the completely legal financial transactions of any American who has interacted with a bank or nonprofit. That type of intimate information should be released to the government only under the umbrella of Fourth Amendment protections.
Congress should fight human trafficking, but expanding surveillance on innocent Americans should not be part of it. Instead, it should direct law enforcement to use existing authority to investigate these offenses.