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Criminal Resource Manual

406. Customer Authorization

A customer may authorize disclosure under section 3402(l) and section 3404 explains the procedures that must be followed. Customers may authorize access to identified records, for a period of no more than three months by providing a signed and dated statement to the financial institution and the government authority. The customer may revoke such authorization at any time before the records are disclosed. The authorization must state the customer's rights under the Act and a customer may not be required to give an authorization as a condition of doing business with a financial institution. The authority must identify the records sought and the purposes and agencies to which the records may be disclosed. Institutions must keep records of the agencies to which customer-authorized access is granted; these records are open to inspection by customers. Although the statute may be read as implying that the customer must give authorization directly to the financial institution, practical necessity dictates that the government directly obtain the authorization and deliver it to the financial institution on behalf of the customer. Note: For maximum efficiency, the customer authorization should specify all agencies anticipated to require access; the purpose should also be stated broadly.

While there is no legislative history on this point, it is the view of the Department that any named account holder of a joint account may authorize government access to the account, such as either spouse in connection with a husband and wife account or any partner in connection with a partnership account. Perhaps the most analogous rule of law supporting this conclusion is that either spouse can consent to a search of a premise or of an item held jointly by husband and wife (See United States v. Stone, 471 F.2d 170 (7th Cir. 1973), cert. denied, 411 U.S. 931 (1973)) and that a partner may consent to a search of a partnership business premises. (See Gurleski v. United States, 405 F.2d 253 (5th Cir. 1968), cert. denied, 395 U.S. 977 (1968).