While pretty steep, $25 billion of our tax dollars isn’t the only thing many Americans could lose in the just-unveiled GSE bailout bill likely being voted on later today in the House of Representatives. They could lose valuable liberities as well. Despite opposition from a bipartisan coalition including the American Civil Liberties Union and the American Conservative Union, the bill just now being e-mailed around House offices includes the Senate bill’s mandatory fingerprint registry. Legions of ordinary Americans working in the banking, mortgage and real estate industries would have to send their fingerprints to the feds for continuous “tracking.”
In language virtually indentical to that in the Senate bill that passed earlier this month, the House bill — which I received via e-mail but could not find online — requires any “loan originator” to “furnish” to the newly created Nationwide Mortgage Licensing System and Registry “information concerning the applicant’s identity, including fingerprints,” that will be sent to the FBI and other government agencies. “Loan originator” is defined broadly as anyone who “takes a residential loan application; and offers or negotiates terms of a residential mortgage loan for compensation or gain.” Real estate agents are also covered if they receive any type of compensation from “originators.”
In other words, people who are our friends and neighbors who did nothing fraudulent or irresponsible would have to submit their fingerprint for tracking to a giant federal database. As I have said before in the Wall Street Journal and other places, this measure would probably not subject to fingerprinting the Angelo Mozilos who designed these loans. Rather, it would affect hundreds of thousands of ordinary employees in the mortgage and real estate industry, including many part-time and clerical workers.
It is in times of national emergencies that measures infringing on privacy and civil liberties are advocated — and sometimes rushed through without even being discussed — even if they turn out to do little to solve the problem at hand. Then, when the emergency is over, the liberty-stealing measures remain.
The current crisis at Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and banks is being characterized as a national emergency, and not surprisingly, political leaders are demanding that war-like financial measures be enacted. But we can’t let the rationale of a financial crisis bring on unwarranted intrusion on our liberties any more than we can let the justification of national security do so.
There is no reason why the House must include the Senate’s fingerprint mandate in its bill. Even in a crisis, the burden should not be on privacy advocates defending the liberties enshrined in the Bill of Rights to explain why a privacy-invading measure shouldn’t be enacted. Rather, proponents of the measure should bear the burden of explaining why the current crisis justifies something that infringes on their liberties.
Show us the evidence that fingerprinting would have lessened the damage at Fannie, Freddie, and now-insolvent banks! The proponents can’t and they won’t, because there probably is none.
Some good news is that in addition to bipartisan coaliton that has risen up against the fingerprint mandate, there has been some excellent news coverage of the mandate and the coalition against it. Check out these articles from Washington Post syndicated columnist Ken Harney, the Tampa Tribune, CNET, CNSNews, and WorldNetDaily.
I usually don’t call on Open Market readers to call their members of Congress. But this is such a blatant outrage that it might be worth giving your elected Senator or Representative a piece of your mind. The Capitol Switchboard number is (202) 224-3121, and the operators can connect you to any member of Congress. Let your fingers do the walking, before Congress makes you send the feds your prints.