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  • Senate passes NDAA with significant AML provisions

    Federal Issues

    On December 11, the U.S. Senate passed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2021 in a 84-13 vote, which was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives earlier in the week. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the NDAA includes a number of anti-money laundering provisions, such as (i) establishing federal disclosure requirements of beneficial ownership information, including a requirement that reporting companies submit, at the time of formation and within a year of any change, their beneficial owner(s) to a “secure, nonpublic database at FinCEN”; (ii) expanding the declaration of purpose of the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) and establishing national examinations and supervision priorities; (iii) requiring streamlined, real-time reporting of Suspicious Activity Reports; (iv) expanding the definition of financial institution under the BSA to include dealers in antiquities; and (v) including digital currency in the AML-CFT enforcement regime by, among other things, expanding the definition of financial institution under the BSA to include businesses engaged in the transmission of “currency, funds or value that substitutes for currency or funds.” The NDAA has been sent to President Trump, who has publicly threatened to veto the measure; however, the legislation passed both the Senate and the House with majorities large enough to override a veto.

    Federal Issues Financial Crimes Anti-Money Laundering Bank Secrecy Act Combating the Financing of Terrorism Virtual Currency SARs Of Interest to Non-US Persons U.S. Senate Federal Legislation

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  • Bipartisan Covid-19 legislation includes new PPP funding

    Federal Issues

    On December 14, congressional lawmakers released the details of bipartisan Covid-19 relief legislation (and accompanying memorandum), titled “the Emergency Coronavirus Relief Act of 2020,” which would provide $300 billion to the U.S. Small Business Administration to allow for second forgivable Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans to certain businesses after the program’s lending expired in August (covered by InfoBytes here). In addition to capping the maximum PPP loan amount at $2 million, the proposed legislation would limit eligibility of new PPP loans to (i) businesses with 300 or fewer employees that have sustained a 30 percent revenue loss in any quarter of 2020; and (ii) non-lobbying, tax-exempt organizations that have 150 employees or fewer. Additionally, the legislation clarifies that business expenses paid for with the proceeds of PPP loans are tax deductible, and simplifies the loan forgiveness process for loans $150,000 or less. Lastly, the legislation includes set-asides for (i) small businesses with 10 or fewer employees; (ii) loans made by small community lenders, including Community Development Financial Institutions, credit unions, Minority Depository Institutions; and (iii) the Minority Business Development Agency.

    Federal Issues SBA Covid-19 IRS CARES Act U.S. House U.S. Senate Federal Legislation

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  • House passes NDAA with significant AML/CFT provisions

    Federal Issues

    On December 8, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2021 in a 335-78 vote, which includes significant language from the September 2019 proposed legislation, the “Improving Laundering Laws and Increasing Comprehensive Information Tracking of Criminal Activity in Shell Holdings (ILLICIT CASH) Act,” among other proposed laws. Highlights of the anti-money laundering (AML) provisions include:

    • Establishing federal disclosure requirements of beneficial ownership information, including a requirement that reporting companies submit, at the time of formation and within a year of any change, their beneficial owner(s) to a “secure, nonpublic database at FinCEN”;
    • Expand the declaration of purpose of the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) and establish national examinations and supervision priorities;
    • Require streamlined, real-time reporting of Suspicious Activity Reports;
    • Establish a Subcommittee on Innovation and Technology within the Bank Secrecy Act Advisory Group to encourage and support technological innovation in the area of AML and countering the financing of terrorism and proliferation (CFT);
    • Expand the definition of financial institution under the BSA to include dealers in antiquities;
    • Require federal agencies to study the facilitation of money laundering and the financing of terrorism through the trade of works of art; and
    • Inclusion of digital currency in AML-CFT enforcement by, among other things, expanding the definition of financial institution under the BSA to include businesses engaged in the transmission of “currency, funds or value that substitutes for currency or funds.”

    Federal Issues Financial Crimes Anti-Money Laundering Bank Secrecy Act Combating the Financing of Terrorism Virtual Currency SARs Of Interest to Non-US Persons U.S. House Federal Legislation

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  • California AG, former FTC chairs argue about federal privacy law preemption during Senate committee hearing

    Federal Issues

    On September 23, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation held a hearing titled, “Revisiting the Need for Federal Data Privacy Legislation.” The hearing examined the current state of consumer data privacy and legislative efforts to provide baseline data protections for American consumers, and examined the lessons learned from the EU’s Global Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and recently enacted state privacy laws. Witnesses included a number of former chairs and commissioners of the FTC, along with California Attorney General Xavier Becerra.

    Becerra discussed the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), which sets forth various requirements for businesses that collect, transfer, or sell a consumer’s personal information, and provides California residents several rights, including the right to know what data companies have collected on them and the right to ask to delete data or opt-out of its sale. (See continuing InfoBytes coverage on the CCPA here.) Concerning future federal privacy legislation, Becerra stressed that any such legislation should not preempt the work happening at the state level, and he urged the Committee “to favor legislation that sets a federal privacy-protection floor rather than a ceiling,” in order to allow states the opportunity to provide tailored protections for their residents. Becerra also stressed that the ideal federal legal framework would “recognize[] that privacy protections must keep pace with innovation,” and further addressed the need for a meaningful enforcement regime that respects the work undertaken by the states.

    Former FTC chairs Jon Leibowitz and Maureen Ohlhausen, however, argued (see here and here) in favor of federal preemption. They suggested that a single national comprehensive privacy standard would be stronger and more comprehensive than existing regimes such as the CCPA and GDPR, and could better serve consumers even if it replaces state regulations. Both stressed that preempting state laws should not mean weakening protections for consumers. Moreover, both Leibowitz and Ohlhausen emphasized that federal privacy legislation should be technology- and industry-neutral, with rigorous standards backed by tough enforcement. Leibowitz also urged Congress to provide the FTC with the ability to impose civil penalties on violators for first-time offenses, and recommended that the FTC be granted the primary authority to administer the law and be given continued authority to provide redress directly to consumers. Former chair William Kovacic presented a different approach, which would establish a domestic privacy network to promote cooperation and coordination between federal and state privacy regulators to improve policy formation.

    Other topics covered in the hearing included Chairman Roger Wicker’s (R-MS) recently introduced bill (S. 4626), known as the SAFE DATA Act, which would require businesses to be more transparent about their data collection, processing, and transfer activities, and give consumers more choices and control over their data. Among other things, the bill would preempt privacy laws in California and other states, except in regard to data breaches, and would not include a private right of action allowing consumers to sue over privacy violations.

    Federal Issues Federal Legislation Privacy/Cyber Risk & Data Security Data Breach State Issues State Attorney General

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  • E-SIGN modernization bill passes Senate committee

    Federal Issues

    On September 16, the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation voted 14-12 to approve S. 4159 (the “E-SIGN Modernization Act”), sponsored by Senator Thune, the majority whip. As previously covered by Infobytes, the E-SIGN Modernization Act would amend E-SIGN to remove the requirement that consumers reasonably demonstrate they can access documents electronically before they can receive an electronic version. Instead, consumers would be allowed to obtain documents electronically once they are provided with disclosure information and consent to receiving documents through such means. The E-SIGN Modernization Act was opposed by several consumer advocacy groups, including the National Consumer Law Center, which argued in a letter to the committee that the bill “would increase fraud and effectively prevent access to legally required information and records about the transactions to which consumers are bound.”

    Committee Ranking Member Senator Cantwell had offered, but later withdrew, an amendment that would have rejected all the changes introduced under the E-SIGN Modernization Act and, among other things, required the Secretary of Commerce and the Federal Trade Commission to evaluate and report to Congress, within a year after S. 4159’s enactment, the benefits and burdens of E-SIGN’s requirement for consumers to reasonably demonstrate that they can access documents electronically before receiving electronic versions.

    The legislation is currently pending approval by the full Senate.

    Federal Issues Federal Legislation E-SIGN Act E-Signature U.S. Senate

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  • Senate investigation finds that oligarchs use art industry to avoid sanctions

    Financial Crimes

    Last month, the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations issued a bipartisan report titled “The Art Industry and U.S. Policies that Undermine Sanctions,” which details findings from a two-year investigation related to how Russian oligarchs appear to have used the art industry to evade U.S. sanctions. According to the Subcommittee, the investigation—which focused on major auction houses, private New York art dealers, and seven financial institutions—revealed that the “secretive nature” of the art industry “allowed art intermediaries to purchase more than $18 million in high-value art in the United States through shell companies linked to Russian oligarchs after they were sanctioned by the United States in March 2014,” and that, moreover, “the shell companies linked to the Russian oligarchs were not limited to just art and engaged in a total of $91 million in post-sanctions transactions.” The report claims that the art industry is largely unregulated, and, unlike financial institutions, is not subject to the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) and is not required to maintain anti-money laundering (AML) and anti-terrorism financing controls. However, the report notes that sanctions imposed by the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) do apply to the industry, emphasizing that U.S. persons are not allowed to conduct business with sanctioned individuals or entities.

    The Subcommittee’s key findings include that while four of the major auction houses have established voluntary AML controls, they treat an art agent or advisor as the principal purchaser of the art, which allows the auction house to perform due diligence on the art agent or advisor instead of identifying and evaluating a potentially undisclosed client. The auction houses also reportedly rely on financial institutions to identify the source of funds used to purchase the art. Because of these practices, the report concludes that these shell companies continue to have access to the U.S. financial system despite the imposition of sanctions.

    The report makes several recommendations including: (i) the BSA should be amended to include businesses that handle transactions involving high-value art; (ii) Treasury should be required to collect beneficial ownership information for companies formed or registered to do business in the U.S., making the information available to law enforcement; (iii) Treasury should consider imposing sanctions on a sanctioned individual’s immediate family members; (iv) Treasury should announce and implement sanctions concurrently “to avoid creating a window of opportunity for individuals to avoid sanctions”; (v) the ownership threshold for blocking companies owned by sanctioned individuals should be lowered or removed; (vi) Treasury should maximize its use of suspicious activity reports filed by financial institutions to, among other things, alert other financial institutions of the risks of transacting with sanctioned entities; (vii) OFAC should issue comprehensive guidance for auction houses and art dealers on steps for determining “whether a person is the principal seller or purchaser of art or is acting on behalf of an undisclosed client, and which person should be subject to a due diligence review”; and (viii) OFAC should issue guidance on “the informational exception to the International Emergency Economic Powers Act related to ‘artworks.’”

    Additionally, in June, a bipartisan group of senators introduced the Anti-Money Laundering Act of 2020 (AMLA) as an amendment (S.Amdt 2198 to S.4049) to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which would, among many other things, require federal agencies to study “the facilitation of money laundering and the financing of terrorism through the trade of works of art or antiquities” and, if appropriate, propose rulemaking to implement the study’s findings within 180 days of the AMLA’s enactment.

    Financial Crimes U.S. Senate Investigations Sanctions OFAC Anti-Money Laundering Bank Secrecy Act Federal Legislation Of Interest to Non-US Persons

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  • SCRA’s lease protections expanded for stop movement orders

    Federal Issues

    On August 14, President Trump signed S.3637, which amends the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) to expand the lease protections for servicemembers under stop movement orders in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Specifically, the SCRA’s lease termination protections are expanded to include situations in which a servicemember executes a residential or motor vehicle lease upon the receipt of military orders for a permanent change of station or deployment and then subsequently receives a stop movement order “in response to a local, national, or global emergency, effective for an indefinite period or for a period of not less than 30 days,” which would prevent the servicemember from occupying the residence or using the vehicle. The amendments are retroactively effective and apply to stop movement orders issued on or after March 1.

    Federal Issues Covid-19 SCRA Military Lending Auto Finance Federal Legislation

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  • Federal legislation would apply TILA to small business financing

    Federal Issues

    On July 30, Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez (D-NY), the Chairwoman of the House Small Business Committee, announced new legislation titled, “Small Business Lending Disclosure and Broker Regulation Act,” which would amend TILA and subject small business financing transactions to APR disclosures. The federal legislation would track similar state legislation enacted in California and currently pending the governor’s signature in New York, covered by InfoBytes here and here. However, unlike both California and New York, the federal legislation does not exempt depository institutions from coverage. Highlights of the TILA amendments include:

    • CFPB Oversight. The legislation provides the CFPB with the same authority with respect to small business financing as the Bureau has with respect to consumer financial products and services.
    • Coverage. The legislation defines small business financing as, “[a]ny line of credit, closed-end commercial credit, sales-based financing, or other non-equity obligation or alleged obligation of a partnership, corporation, cooperative, association, or other entity that is [$2.5 million] or less,” that is not intended for personal, family, or household purposes.
    • Disclosure. The legislation would require disclosure of the following information at the time an offer of credit is made: (i) financing amount; (ii) annual percentage rate (APR); (iii) payment amount; (iv) term; (v) financing charge; (vi) prepayment cost or savings; and (vii) collateral requirements.
    • Fee Restriction. The legislation prohibits charging a fee on the outstanding principal balance when refinancing or modifying an existing loan, unless there is a tangible benefit to the small business.

    Additionally, the legislation would amend the Consumer Financial Protection Act to create the Office of Broker Registration, which would be responsible for oversight of brokers who “solicit[] and present[] offers of commercial financing on behalf of a third party.” The legislation would, among other things: (i) require commercial brokers to register with the CFPB; (ii) require commercial brokers to provide certain disclosures to small business borrowers; (iii) prohibit the charging of fees if financing is not available or not accepted; and (iv) require the CFPB to collect and publicly publish broker complaints from small businesses. Lastly, the legislation would require each state to establish a small business broker licensing law that includes examinations and enforcement mechanisms.

    Relatedly, the FTC recently took action against New York-based merchant cash advance providers and two company executives for allegedly engaging in deceptive practices by misrepresenting the terms of their merchant cash advances (MCAs), using unfair collection practices, making unauthorized withdrawals from consumers’ accounts, and misrepresenting collateral and personal guarantee requirements. See detailed InfoBytes coverage on the complaint here.

    Federal Issues TILA Small Business Financing Broker CFPB Disclosures State Issues Licensing Federal Legislation FTC Merchant Cash Advance

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  • Senators introduce E-SIGN modernization bill

    Federal Issues

    On July 2, three Republican senators introduced a bill that would make electronic transactions easier by simplifying how consumers signal their acceptance of them. Sens. John Thune, Jerry Moran, and Todd Young introduced S.4159, the “E-SIGN Modernization Act,” which would allow companies to use electronic documents instead of paper ones if they secure the consumer’s consent to the substitution. Under the original E-SIGN Act passed 20 years ago, consumers also had to demonstrate to the company that they could access the records in the electronic form.

    “Computers, smart phones, and other devices are more reliable and accessible than ever before,” Thune said in a press release accompanying the bill. “This legislation makes necessary updates to E-Sign to reflect these advancements in technology and make it easier for consumers to receive documents electronically.”

    The bill also would no longer require transaction parties to obtain new consents when hardware or software changes. Instead, the company would simply disclose the updated requirements and notify the consumer of their right to withdraw consent without penalty.

    Federal Issues Federal Legislation E-SIGN Act E-Signature U.S. Senate

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  • PPP extended until August 8

    Federal Issues

    On July 4, President Trump signed S.4116, which extends authorization for the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) through August 8. Additionally, the measure separates the amount authorized for the SBA’s standard 7(a) small business lending program from the PPP’s authorized commitment of $659 billion.

    Federal Issues Covid-19 SBA Small Business Lending Federal Legislation

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