Treasury Department System For Tracking Money Transfers In and Out of U.S. Will Take Years to Build

A computer system giving authorities information on as many as 500 million electronic transfers of money in and out of the U.S. will take 3 1/2 years to build and won't be finished by the end of this year as planned, the Bush administration said Wednesday.

The assessment was contained in a Treasury Department report on the feasibility of the program, aimed at catching terrorist financiers, money launderers and other criminals. The report said that while the program is feasible, it is also a big undertaking.

"On a technical level, development of information technology systems capable of receiving, storing, analyzing and disseminating an estimated 350 to 500 million records a year is a daunting task," the report said.

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Building the system would require 3 1/2 years of work and cost $32.6 million, the report said. "We conclude that although construction of such a system is feasible, completion of such a system by December 2007 is not feasible," the department said in the report.

A 2004 law, the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act, required the Treasury Department to look into the feasibility of the program before issuing regulations in this area. The law directs the department to issue regulations implementing the program by December 2007.

As envisioned, data on cross-border electronic money transfers would be technologically protected and secured and would only be available to the Treasury Department's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network and the law enforcement and regulatory agencies authorized by law to assess the information.

Financial institutions keep records on such electronic transfers of $3,000 or more but are not currently required to report that information to the government on a routine basis. The department has proposed requiring banks and other financial institutions to report information about each of those transfers.

At a minimum, the information on these transfer includes the name and address of the sender, the amount of the transfer, any payment instructions, the name and address of the beneficiary and the beneficiary's financial institution.

Existing regulations make no distinction between domestic and international electronic money transfers. Thus, financial institutions would need to segregate cross-border money transfers, the department said.

Banks have raised concerns about the proposal, citing technical, privacy and competitive issues.

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