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Home > Privacy and Government > Government Threats to Privacy > Public Records > Government Databases > FinCEN


"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 Agency.

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.


Following the Money by Julie Wakefield, (October, 2000)

Feds: Digital Cash Can Thwart Us
by Declan McCullagh, Wired News (September 22, 2000)

FinCEN Website (including link to Strategic Plan)
Comments? (Subject: FinCEN)

[updated 9/29/00]

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