WASHINGTON — The Obama administration wants to require U.S. banks to report all electronic money transfers into and out of the country, a dramatic expansion in efforts to counter terrorist financing and money laundering.
Officials say the information would help them spot the sort of transfers that helped finance the al-Qaida hijackers who carried out the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Financial institutions are now required to report to the Treasury Department transactions in excess of $10,000 and others they deem suspicious. The new rule would require banks to disclose even the smallest transfers.
Treasury officials plan to post the proposed regulation on their website today and in the Federal Register this week. The public could comment before the rule takes effect, probably in 2012.
The proposal is a long-delayed response to the 2004 Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act, which specified reforms to better organize the intelligence community and to avoid a repeat of the 2001 attacks.
"By establishing a centralized database, this regulatory plan will greatly assist law enforcement in detecting and ferreting out transnational organized crime, multinational drug cartels, terrorist financing and international tax evasion," said James Freis, director of Treasury's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network.
Critics called it part of a disturbing trend by government security agencies to seek more access to personal data. "These new banking surveillance programs are testing the boundaries of privacy," said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center. "Many consumers both in the United States and outside are likely to object."
Internet wiretaps: Federal law enforcement and national security officials are preparing to seek sweeping new regulations of the Internet to help monitor criminal and terrorism suspects, the New York Times reported. Officials want Congress to require all services that enable communications — including encrypted e-mail transmitters like BlackBerry, social networking websites like Facebook and software that allows direct "peer to peer" messaging like Skype — to be technically capable of complying if served with a wiretap order. The Obama administration plans to submit the legislation to lawmakers next year.