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"I don't think Americans understand that their financial transactions are being reported and routinely examined," said Barry Steinhardt of the American Civil Liberties Union.
The Treasury Department's database now contains records of more than 100 million financial transactions going back to at least 1996, said network spokesman Steve Hudak.
Teams of agents from the FBI, IRS, Drug Enforcement Administration and other agencies regularly review newly filed financial reports and launch investigations. Federal and local authorities search the database to find information about people that can help ongoing probes. Treasury Department analysts study the reports to detect trends in fraud and issue reports alerting financial institutions.
"The government has access to untold volumes of records and can draw all sorts of conclusions about us, and many are going to be wrong," Steinhardt said.