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Experts Warn SEC’s Consolidated Audit Trail Is Unconstitutional

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The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) newest surveillance tool, the Consolidated Audit Trail (CAT), has sparked significant concerns among privacy advocates and legal experts, who warn of an unprecedented expansion of government monitoring over financial transactions.

SEC’s CAT Sparks Privacy Concerns and Legal Challenges

Recent developments, such as the SEC implementation of the Consolidated Audit Trail (CAT), signal a troubling trend towards increased government surveillance.

CAT is poised to become the largest database of securities transactions ever, representing a significant step towards unchecked government surveillance, according to crypto law experts.

What Is the Consolidated Audit Trail?

In late May 2024, the SEC’s newest mass surveillance tool, the CAT, went “fully operational.” This means that SEC-registered broker-dealers, exchanges, and alternative trading systems must now collect and report trade information related to every U.S. trade, as well as the personal information of every U.S. retail brokerage customer.

This database, designed to collect and store detailed customer data across U.S. financial markets, threatens to transform the landscape of financial privacy. The CAT’s purported purpose is to allow regulators to efficiently and accurately track all activity throughout U.S. markets. However, this system could also mean massive, unchecked government surveillance becomes a reality.

Privacy Concerns and Legal Challenges

Under the SEC’s CAT-related requirements, regulated entities are forced to collect a multitude of data points about trades, traders, and retail customers, including names, addresses, and account details. For participants in the digital asset economy, this could extend to transaction identifiers and wallet addresses, giving those with access to the database insight into users’ transaction histories.

The implications for the digital asset industry are worrying, especially given the SEC’s recent finalization of the Dealer rule-making, which the Blockchain Association and others are challenging in federal court. If these new rules stand, the newly minted “dealers” and “exchanges” will be required to report digital asset users’ information to the CAT.

This means unprecedented amounts of crypto trading data and personal customer information will be caught in the SEC’s surveillance dragnet. Making matters worse, CAT data is accessible to a web of related government agencies and private self-regulated organizations without a warrant or reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing. This vastly expands who could potentially gain access to Americans’ personal financial lives and trading activities.

The Fight Against CAT

Former Attorney General William Barr in an opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal expressed concerns over the potential violations of constitutional rights due to CAT. He stated, “The Constitution prohibits mass surveillance of private activities based merely on the possibility that someone might commit a crime.” Addressing the government workaround of collecting exhaustive third-party data on a suspect, Barr said, “[t]he Supreme Court has held that even access to some third-party information may require a warrant.”

Organizations like the New Civil Liberties Alliance (NCLA) are actively fighting back against CAT. The NCLA has filed a motion asking the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas for a stay and preliminary injunction to halt the CAT. They argue that the CAT is the largest government-mandated mass collection of personal financial data in American history and that it operates without any statutory authorization from Congress.

The NCLA contends that the SEC’s actions violate the Fourth Amendment and the Administrative Procedure Act. They point out the risks associated with such a vast database, including cybersecurity threats, and criticize the SEC’s funding of the CAT by unilaterally taking billions of dollars from self-regulatory organizations.

The Role of Privacy Coins

As regulatory pressures mount, privacy-focused projects in the crypto space are becoming increasingly crucial. This explains much of the reason why privacy coins like Monero and Zano are seeing an uptick in interest and activity. Zano recently completed its Zarcanum hard fork, significantly enhancing its capabilities by allowing users to create untraceable custom tokenized or confidential assets. This advancement supports the chain’s transformation into a multi-privacy coin platform.

Privacy is necessary for cryptocurrencies to achieve global adoption. Without privacy, a currency cannot be fungible. Blacklisting certain cryptocurrencies involved in illegal activities renders these assets less valuable than those considered “clean.”

In the face of escalating governmental surveillance like the SEC’s CAT, the importance of privacy coins in safeguarding individual privacy cannot be overstated. Citizens of governments must continue to fight and advocate for privacy, pushing back against regulatory overreach. And the crypto community must continue to support privacy-focused projects through investment, technical contributions, and usage.

Are you worried that governments are pushing to take away their citizen’s privacy? Share your thoughts and opinions about this subject in the comments section below.

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