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What is Section 314(a)?

Section 314(a) is part of the USA Patriot Act that enables financial institutions (FIs) and law enforcement to work together to fight money laundering and terrorist activity.

Through 314(a), law enforcement can retrieve key information from FIs. When a financial institution receives a request for information, it is required to search its records for a match. It then hands any corresponding data to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), which passes on any relevant information to law enforcement agencies that need help tracking the financial assets and transactions of subjects of criminal investigations.

Section 314(a) empowers the Secretary of the Treasury to regulate and encourage the sharing of information between law enforcement authorities and FIs. These parties may share information regarding entities, organizations, or individuals suspected (based on credible evidence) or actively engaged in money laundering or terrorist activities.

Under Section 314(a), FinCEN allows federal, state, local, and foreign law enforcement agencies to collaborate with over 34,000 points of contact at more than 14,000 financial firms. The breadth of this network makes it easier for law enforcement to identify accounts and transactions tied to people that might be involved in money laundering or terrorism.

What Does Section 314(a) Look Like in Action?

There are three main parts to Section 314(a):

  1. Information requests
  2. 314(a) Secure Information Sharing System
  3. Retroactive searches

FIs are compelled to conduct one-time searches when they receive an information request. This search should identify any matching accounts or transactions to a named suspect, including those that occurred over the course of the previous year. If an FI gets a positive match, it must be reported to FinCEN within 14 days unless otherwise noted in the formal information request.

The 314(a) Secure Information Sharing System (SISS) is a web-based tool where FinCEN posts subject lists. Every two weeks, notifications are sent through the system to FIs. Emergent notifications may be transmitted more frequently. Once a notification is received, the FI has ten days to run a comparison of the account holder records and names in the subject lists. Non-account holder transactions from the prior six months must also be reviewed. Positive matches are immediately reported to FinCEN through the SISS, but negative matches don’t need to be reported. Some FIs use third-party vendors to help with record searches, but they are still ultimately responsible for the security and confidentiality of the information.

If an FI misses a 314(a) subject list or doesn’t complete a search, it is required to get the request from FinCEN and complete a retroactive search. In these cases, the FI is not required to search records that were created after the original request. Retroactive searches are not required on requests that went out more than a year after the FI discovers it did not perform the search.

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