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Unconstitutional financial surveillance? Advocacy group Coin Center is suing the US government

The Verge | | Jun 21, 2022

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Image: Alex Castro, The Verge

Last week, Coin Center filed a legal challenge in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky, naming as defendants Janet Yellen as a representative of the Treasury Department, IRS commissioner Charles Rettig, and US attorney general Merrick Garland on behalf of the government as a whole.

A blog post from the advocacy group says that the legal complaint aims to overturn “unconstitutional financial surveillance.” If Coin Center’s challenge is successful, it could have implications far beyond cryptocurrency due to how the reporting law was passed in the first place.

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The authors, Coin Center executive director Jerry Brito and research director Peter Van Valkenburgh, write:

Our suit leads with two major claims: (1) forcing ordinary people to collect highly intrusive information about other ordinary people, and report it to the government without a warrant, is unconstitutional under the Fourth Amendment; and (2) demanding that politically active organizations create and report lists of their donors’ names and identifying information to the government is unconstitutional under the First Amendment.

When the new requirement was made law through the infrastructure bill, it wasn’t written as a new statute: rather, it was an amendment to an existing part of the US tax code — Section 6050I — that has been on the books for almost 40 years.

The 6050I rule states that any person who receives more than $10,000 in cash as part of a business transaction must provide details of the sender to the IRS through a particular form. This cash reporting requirement, which became law in 1984, came on the heels of the Bank Secrecy Act of 1970: one of the first major laws to address money laundering in the United States. Together, the new reporting laws passed in the ’70s and ’80s helped law enforcement agencies to detect and deter money laundering by creating requirements to file documentation that made it easier to track cash transfers and imposing penalties if such documents weren’t filed.

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The law has been in effect ever since, without any significant change until now. In the infrastructure bill, a critical change of eight words was made to 6050I, expanding the definition of cash to include “any digital asset” and thereby extending the tax code’s reporting requirements to cryptocurrency. And because of this construction, a successful challenge on behalf of cryptocurrency users could mean overturning the statute completely.

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NCFA Jan 2018 resize - Unconstitutional financial surveillance?  Advocacy group Coin Center is suing the US governmentThe National Crowdfunding & Fintech Association (NCFA Canada) is a financial innovation ecosystem that provides education, market intelligence, industry stewardship, networking and funding opportunities and services to thousands of community members and works closely with industry, government, partners and affiliates to create a vibrant and innovative fintech and funding industry in Canada. Decentralized and distributed, NCFA is engaged with global stakeholders and helps incubate projects and investment in fintech, alternative finance, crowdfunding, peer-to-peer finance, payments, digital assets and tokens, blockchain, cryptocurrency, regtech, and insurtech sectors. Join Canada's Fintech & Funding Community today FREE! Or become a contributing member and get perks. For more information, please visit: www.ncfacanada.org

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