A new Senate report has called out one of the biggest U.S. government surveillance programs.
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) called for the Department of Justice inspector general to investigate federal law enforcement agencies’ use of a nonprofit database.
The database in question has amassed millions of records on money transfers between the U.S. and more than 20 countries.
In an arrangement, an Arizona-based nonprofit called the Transaction Record Analysis Center (TRAC) has provided federal, state and local law enforcement agencies with “unrestricted access” to mass amounts of data on Americans’ money transfers.
Sen. Wyden described it as a “bulk surveillance program.”
The TRAC database was created as part of a 2014 money laundering settlement between the Arizona attorney general’s office and Western Union.
Wyden’s office has been investigating the mass surveillance program for a year and has found that hundreds of law enforcement agencies have access to the money transfer database, which is housed inside the nonprofit.
In March, Wyden requested that the Department of Homeland Security inspector general look into the use of that same database by the agency’s law enforcement arm, Homeland Security Investigations.
The letter to the Department of Justice said the Department of Homeland Security and Homeland Security Investigations hid key elements of the surveillance program during a February 2022 briefing.
Wyden’s investigation had previously focused solely on HSI’s use of customs summons, a form of administrative subpoena, to obtain records of money transfers over $500 between several states in the Southwestern U.S. and Mexico.
The latest request showed that several money transfer companies sent bulk customer data to TRAC for both domestic and foreign transfers. It includes transfers between people in the U.S. and about 22 foreign nations, plus one territory.
“This unorthodox arrangement between state law enforcement, DHS and DOJ agencies to collect bulk money-transfer data raises a number of concerns about surveillance disproportionately affecting low-income, minority and immigrant communities,” Wyden said.
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