The Obama administration is proposing that banks report all electronic money transfers in and out of the country, expanding its anti-terrorism requirements for financial institutions.
Officials at the Treasury Department's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network said Monday that the new requirement would boost their ability to track the source of funding for terrorists.
Currently banks are required to only report cash transactions above $10,000. They are also required to keep records on all electronic transfers of money in and out of the country above $3,000 and provide that information to law enforcement officials if asked to do so.
James H. Freis Jr., the director of the Treasury agency, said that widening the reporting requirement would provide benefits with only a "modest cost to industry."
"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," Freis said in a statement announcing that the proposed rules were being published in the Federal Register for public comment.
The proposed expansion of reporting requirements would not take effect until 2012.
Bank of America said in a statement that the proposed rule would be analyzed to determine the impact it will have on the bank and its customers.
The new policy would fulfill requirements under the 2004 intelligence law, which gave federal agencies greater authority to monitor potential terrorist threats.
Critics contend that requiring banks to report all money transfers involving foreign wire transactions would represent a massive expansion in government access to personal data.
"It is an extraordinary overreach by the U.S. government," said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a Washington-based organization on privacy rights. "This looks like a big electronic fishing expedition."
He said the proposal would raise serious concerns in many European countries where banking customers have greater privacy rights with regard to their financial transactions.
Under current requirements, financial institutions each year file about 14 million reports on cash transactions in excess of $10,000.
The proposed rule will not apply to credit card or ATM transactions, the most common ways that banking customers gain access to their funds when they are in another country.