The Department of Homeland Security undertook a secret bulk surveillance program that collected millions of records about Americans' money transfers without warrants, reports the Wall Street Journal. The surveillance program of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency collected records on any money transfers greater than $500 sent to or received from Mexico, Arizona, California, New Mexico, or Texas. Sen, Ron Wyden (D-OR) said a briefing held after he sent a letter on this issue to DHS Inspector General Joseph Cuffari was the first time Congress was made aware of the program. Wyden asked DHS to give Congress information about the program's origins, operation, and legal justification for its existence. Wyden asked the inspector general to investigate any similar programs and said they should be subject to congressional oversight.
It is not clear how the authorities are using the data collected, which appears to come from money-transfer services, like Western Union, as opposed to banks. These services are popular among people who do not have bank accounts and have a need to send money abroad. The data collection stretches back at least as far as 2010, when the Arizona Attorney General's office began collecting similar data from Western Union after a money-laundering settlement. A 2014 settlement led to the creation of a nonprofit organization called the Transaction Record Analysis Center, or TRAC, which hosted the money-transfer data. From 2014 to 2019, when Western Union was no longer compelled to share its data, TRAC shared its data with hundreds of federal, state, and local law-enforcement agencies, who were allowed to view data without warrants. After agreement expired, the Arizona Attorney General sought help collecting data from ICE, who has authority to investigate people and goods moving across the border. ICE agreed, issuing six subpoenas to Western Union and and two to Maxitransfers Corp. between July 2019 and January 2022.