US Senator Ron Wyden has called for an investigation after it emerged that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents obtained money transfer records of millions of people for at least 12 years without a warrant.
Citing a letter by Senator Wyden, BuzzFeed News reported that the mass collection of financial data by agents in ICE’s domestic arm, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) was part of a surveillance program that fed the information to a database accessed by local and federal law enforcement agencies.
Wyden, the Democrat Senator of Oregon and chair of the Senate Finance Committee, sent the letter to the Department of Homeland Security inspector general on Tuesday requesting a probe into whether the practice was in violation of the US Constitution.
“Law-enforcement agencies have ample authority to subpoena financial information about individual or specific transactions they believe are related to illicit activity,” Wyden says in the letter sent to DHS Inspector General Joseph Cuffari.
“Instead of squandering resources collecting millions of transactions from people merely because they live or transact with individuals in a handful of Southwestern states or have relatives in Mexico, HSI and other agencies should focus their resources on individuals actually suspected of breaking the law.”
HSI agents compelled two money transfer companies to surrender information on every transaction of over $500, to and from California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and Mexico, according to the letter. Two dozen other money transfer companies voluntarily shared the information.
The money transfer data was then shared with federal, state, and local agencies that accessed it without a warrant. It is unclear how those agencies used the data.
The program started in 2010 with Arizona’s state attorney-general collecting similar data from Western Union, which was then shared with agencies through a nonprofit called the Transaction Record Analysis Center (TRAC). TRAC was formed by Arizona’s state attorney-general in 2014.
Some transfer companies stopped voluntarily sharing data with TRAC in 2019 when an agreement with the attorney general stemming from a money laundering case expired, according to Wyden’s letter. Arizona’s AG then called on ICE to compel the data to be shared.
The agency has issued six summons to Western Union and two to Maxitransfers Corp since 2019.