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Foreign Access to U.S. Banking Data Expanded

WASHINGTON (CN) - Banks must provide financial information on people suspected of funding terrorist activity or money laundering to European Union members who are signatories to the Agreement on Mutual Legal Assistance.

The requirement is in a new Financial Crimes Enforcement Network rule amending the Bank Secrecy Act. The FinCEN and other federal law enforcement agencies will receive reciprocal access to European banking records.

Request for access to the program will go through a federal law enforcement officer who is to verify that the matter under investigation is significant and that the requesting agency has been unable to locate the information through traditional methods of investigation. These steps are meant to minimize use of the program and to limit the cost of request compliance for banks.

State and local law enforcement also may use the program. Their requests do not need to be related to a federal investigation. FinCEN will combine overlapping requests stemming from overlapping jurisdictional investigations and will require requesting agencies to share the information obtained under the program.

FinCEN also will be able to use the program, although it does not have to exhaust traditional investigative methods required of law enforcement agencies. FinCEN does not have subpoena or summons authority to carry an investigation forward if it finds evidence of suspected money laundering or suspected financing of terrorism. FinCEN maintains that it will share the results of its self-initiated requests with relevant authorities.

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