Patriot Act's banking section makes sense

As Attorney General John Ashcroft continues to strengthen his case for the Patriot Act to protect Americans from terrorism, there's one portion of the law that stands out as an obvious improvement.

Beginning today, banks, savings and loan associations, credit unions, securities brokers, mutual funds and futures merchants must comply with Section 326 of the Patriot Act, drafted in the weeks after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. It requires financial institutions to verify the identity of anyone opening an account, maintain records of the information used to verify the person's identity and determine whether the person appears on any lists of known or suspected terrorists.

Any prospective customers have to submit four pieces of information to open an account: name, street address, date of birth and a taxpayer identification number, such as a Social Security number. Next, the institution must verify that new customers are who they say they are through a passport or driver's license.

If banks fail to follow this rule with a new customer, they could pay up to a $1 million fine per incident, and executives could go to prison.

Sept. 11 may not have happened if terrorists couldn't transfer their money into accounts across this nation and used it to finance plane tickets. This new law is an obvious improvement that ultimately could save lives.