The issue: A bill under consideration in Congress would force owners and beneficiaries of new corporations and LLCs to disclose personally identifiable information.

What we think: This bill is an invasion of privacy, and either needs to be amended or abandoned.

Tell us what you think: Send us an email at editorial@csbj.com.

In October, the House of Representatives passed the Corporate Transparency Act of 2019, a bill targeting businesses with 20 employees or more — requiring them to provide information about their companies’ owners and beneficiaries.

If enacted, HR-2513 would require each person who creates a corporation or limited liability company in the United States to report the identities of the “beneficial owners,” on an ongoing basis, to the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network.

The goal is to foster financial transparency and curtail illegal activities, including money laundering and funding terrorist activities.

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But the bill oversteps its boundaries, gathering information including birth dates, Social Security numbers, passport information and a host of other sensitive personal information, which would reside with FinCEN. Once housed there, any law enforcement agency can review it without a warrant, subpoena or probable cause.

HR-2513 would be financially burdensome for small businesses — those without pockets deep enough to pay a compliance officer — and would clear the way for systemic invasions of privacy, which could lead to abuses of power. That’s why it’s opposed by the American Bar Association, the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the Due Process Institute and the conservative-leaning National Federation of Independent Businesses.

The ABA opposes the bill “because it would impose burdensome, costly, and unworkable new regulatory burdens on millions of small businesses and their lawyers. … Failure to timely submit [relevant disclosures] or to update it annually and after any changes regarding the businesses’ beneficial ownership could subject the businesses to harsh civil and criminal penalties, including stiff fines and prison sentences, for essentially paperwork violations.”

Though the association states it supports “reasonable measures” to combat money laundering and terrorist financing, it believes “other recently adopted reforms will be more effective in addressing these problems without the many downsides of the proposed legislation… .”

The bill amounts to a shortcut through constitutional safeguards and provides law enforcement with excuses for fishing expeditions without going through proper court proceedings.

And let’s face it, the federal government doesn’t have the best record of safeguarding personal information. From 2006 to 2015, the number of cyber attacks reported by federal agencies increased more than 1,300 percent, including personally identifiable information — like fingerprints — from the Office of Personnel Management. In 2017 alone, federal agencies reported 35,277 cyber incidents.

So now the Treasury wants more information — for its criminal division — without due process. They are demanding small businesses comply or face hefty fines, just to make it easier to research and data-mine private information.

The bill is currently in the Senate’s Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs. Let’s hope it stays there.

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