ICE Conducted Sweeping Surveillance Of Money Transfers Sent To And From The US, A Senator Says

Sen. Ron Wyden is seeking an investigation into whether the program, which obtained about 6 million records from people in several Southwest states, was constitutional.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents obtained millions of people’s financial records as part of a surveillance program that fed the information to a database accessed by local and federal law enforcement agencies, according to a letter sent Tuesday by Sen. Ron Wyden to the Department of Homeland Security inspector general requesting an investigation into whether the practice violated the US Constitution.

The mass collection of financial data — in this case money transfer records — is sure to place more scrutiny on law enforcement practices at an agency that’s best known, and often criticized, for arresting and deporting immigrants. Wyden and one privacy expert who spoke to BuzzFeed News raised concerns about the government surveilling people not because they were suspected of a particular crime, but simply because they used money transfers, which are popular in low-income and immigrant communities that are less likely to have access to banks. And if the program was in fact unconstitutional, it could also jeopardize criminal cases that used its data as evidence.

Wyden, the Oregon Democrat who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, wrote in Tuesday’s letter that ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations officials briefed his staff in February on the program and informed them that they had been using a type of administrative subpoena to obtain approximately 6 million records about money transfers above $500 to or from Arizona, California, New Mexico, Texas, and Mexico since 2019. ICE officials said the records, according to a Wyden aide, included the senders and recipients’ names and addresses.

Wyden’s staff had contacted DHS in January requesting the briefing, and the information provided was the first time anyone in Congress had been told about the effort, he wrote. ICE stopped the practice earlier this year after Wyden’s office inquired about it, he said.

HSI officials informed Wyden’s staff that they had sent eight custom summonses — the administrative subpoena used by the agency — to Western Union and Maxitransfers Corporation to demand records for a six-month period after the subpoena. Six of the subpoenas were sent to Western Union while two were sent to Maxitransfers.

HSI directed the companies to send the data to an organization, Transaction Record Analysis Center (TRAC), that facilitates local, federal, and state law enforcement access to bulk data. Law enforcement officials with access to the database are able to use it “without any kind of court supervision,” Wyden wrote in the letter, which was obtained by BuzzFeed News.

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Hamid Aleaziz