"FinCEN," the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, is a network of databases
and financial records maintained by the U.S. federal government. Housed within
the Treasury Department, FinCEN handles more than 140 million computerized
financial records compiled from 21,000 depository institutions and 200,000 nonbank
financial institutions. Banks, casinos, brokerage firms and money transmitters
all must file reports with FinCEN on cash transactions over $10,000. And FinCen is
the repository for "Suspicious Activity Reports" which must be filed by financial
institutions under the Bank Secrecy Act.
FinCEN also uses a variety of law enforcement databases, including those operated
by the Drug Enforcement Agency and the Defense Department, in addition to commercial
databases of public records. FinCEN may also use databases held by the Central
Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, and the Defense Intelligence
FinCEN shares information with investigators from dozens of agencies, including
the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms; the Drug Enforcement Administration;
the Federal Bureau of Investigation; the U.S. Secret Service; the Internal Revenue
Service; the Customs Service; and the the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. Agents from
all these agencies can investigate names, addresses, and Social Security numbers
through FinCEN. Field agents and state and local law enforcement can access data
from FinCEN remotely.
The benefits of FinCEN in relation to its threat to privacy are very debatable.
Its value is hard to gauge, but FinCEN — and the money laundering laws it supports
— have been criticized for being very expensive and relatively ineffective, while
bludgeoning Fourth Amendment rights.
FinCEN is also a superlative example of a government database system that can be used
to investigate people instead of crimes. An investigator, rightly or wrongly convinced
of the guilt of a certain party, may use FinCEN to investigate that person rather
than the crime the investigator is tasked with solving. This is an inversion of the
proper way to fight crime, and it is very dangerous.
the Money by Julie Wakefield, GovExec.com (October, 2000)
Digital Cash Can Thwart Us
by Declan McCullagh, Wired News (September 22, 2000)
FinCEN Website (including
link to Strategic Plan)