In January, Amalgamated took the opportunity to weigh in on a lawsuit filed in connection with New York City’s municipal ID card program (IDNYC). The program makes government identification cards available to all New Yorkers; this includes residents of the city who do not have traditional forms of identification such as driver’s licenses or similar forms of ID. City residents who do not have proper identification are oftentimes barred from access to their children’s schools and other government buildings, and are even unable to meet the requirements for legally signing a lease to rent an apartment. The IDNYC program seeks to remove these impediments.
When you can’t enter a courthouse or get a library card, it can make you feel like a second-class citizen. IDNYC affords all New Yorkers the opportunity to come out of the shadows, which is why the bank has been an enthusiastic supporter of this program since its inception in 2015. Amalgamated was one of the first banks to recognize IDNYC as a valid form of identification and we view the municipal ID as an important tool to reach and provide needed government and financial services, including bank accounts, to the underbanked and the unbanked.
The legislation creating the IDNYC program mandated that the city retain, for two years, the records individuals present in order to get the municipal ID. At the end of this two-year period, the city then had the option of either continuing to retain the records or destroying them.
In December of last year, two members of the state assembly filed a lawsuit in the Supreme Court of New York in Staten Island to prevent the city from destroying records gathered from individuals applying for the municipal ID. Among the arguments made by the plaintiffs in the suit is that it is necessary for the city to retain the records so that law enforcement will not be impaired in its ability to investigate and prevent financial crime and potential terrorist attacks.
In an initial hearing in the case, the presiding judge invited the State of New York and anyone else interested in doing so to participate as amicus curiae and file briefs in the case. An amicus curiae (translated as “friend of the court”) is a person or entity who is not a formal party to the suit but believes it has special expertise and an interest in the case sufficient to have its views known to the court. The usual role of the amicus is to offer facts and insights to the court that the formal parties to the suit would not be expected to know.
Amalgamated Bank seized this opportunity and filed a brief. In it, we suggested to the court that concerns that destruction of the city’s records would leave law enforcement without the means to investigate and prevent financial crimes were baseless. The brief pointed out that under various federal laws and regulations, including the Bank Secrecy Act, the bank must obtain and keep various records for all accountholders that show basic information, precisely the kind of records that might be helpful to law enforcement to prevent or investigate financial crimes. These are records that are available to law enforcement with a valid purpose and subpoena.
Regardless of the retention period used by the city, the bank made clear that we will retain records that law enforcement can use lawful means to obtain as part of any investigation. We are proud to have been afforded the opportunity to weigh in on this case and offer our expertise in a subject matter about which we feel strongly.