ACLU says Arizona illegally obtained 145 million money transfer records

According to the ACLU, Arizona colluded with the feds to grab information on money transfers that exceeded $500 from border states to Mexico.
Published: Jan. 18, 2023 at 12:12 PM MST|Updated: Jan. 18, 2023 at 8:04 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -- The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) says the State of Arizona, through the power of the attorney general’s office, illegally obtained tens of millions of wire transfer records through the use of a warrantless program.

A report detailed by the civil rights nonprofit describes how the state reportedly colluded with the Dept. of Homeland Security to look into money transfers that exceeded $500 sent to or from Arizona, California, New Mexico, Texas, and Mexico. Last March, Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden from Oregon, who also served, sent a letter asking the Homeland Security Inspector General to look into the matter. Buzzfeed News quickly reported news on that letter; soon afterward, Homeland Security Investigations withdrew its request for the information.

The Wall Street Journal first reported Tuesday morning that the database was being housed in Arizona, disguised under the name “Transaction Record Analysis Center, which the AG’s office allegedly set up in 2014, seemingly as part of a voluntary agreement with Western Union to combat drug trafficking. However, the WSJ says such programs have expanded to more than 600 law enforcement agencies.

A few hours later, the ACLU released dozens of documents from their investigation. Many of those documents specifically revealed that the Arizona attorney general ordered money transfer providers like Bancomer, Sigue, Moneygram, and Western Union to disclose all personal information obtained during the transaction.

According to the ACLU, the state sent “at least 140 illegal subpoenas” for data that included names, addresses, phone numbers, transfer locations, and full timestamps between 2014 and 2021. The nonprofit says most of these companies offer financial services to migrant communities to those unable to obtain traditional checking and saving accounts. “The burden of this government surveillance falls disproportionately on those already most vulnerable to law enforcement overreach,” they wrote.

The DEA and the FBI had also requested subpoenas for the data, which in total, have added up to 145 million records in 2021. In addition, the ACLU said, more than 12,000 people associated with various law enforcement agencies had access to the database.

Nate Wessler is the Deputy Director of ACLU Speech Privacy and Technology Project. He says this program is an invasion of privacy. “They’ve made these records available to thousands of police officers from hundreds of law enforcement agencies with no limitation for what they can search and for what reasons,” he said. “We shouldn’t be suspects just because law enforcement decided they wanted to get everybody’s data all the time.”

Wessler says this is a targeted program. “People who use money transfer systems are often immigrants, poor people, people of color denied traditional banking. One set of rights for people who have more money and access banks and less rights for those who can’t get a traditional bank account because they have bad credit score,” he explained.

Arizona’s Family contacted the Arizona Attorney General’s Office and received the following statement.