Senator Ron Wyden catches ICE illegally collecting Americans’ financial data

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of everyone-always-from-the-abolition-of-this-national-embarrassment? department

ICE wants data and doesn’t care how it gets it. His recently heightened pursuit of anything not considered naturally American has increased his demands for information about… well, everyone. It works with private sector data brokers and data analysts to obtain location information – something not strictly limited to movements at or near borders. Nor is it limited to non-Americans who ICE says should be tracked, captured and ejected.

ICE also collected information collected by US utility companies, including names, addresses, customer cards/accounts used to pay bills and usage records. This was also accomplished via a private party: the CLEAR database managed by Thomson Reuters. ICE paid $21 million a year for access. He no longer has that access, thanks to pressure from Senator Ron Wyden.

ICE stopped another data collection because Wyden started asking questions. And this collection could very well have been illegal. Using only self-issued administrative subpoenas, ICE was able to obtain millions of financial records from two money transfer companies, Western Union and Maxitransfers Corporation.

EFF has more details in this post:

As of 2019, HSI [Homeland Security Investigations — a division of ICE] sent eight administrative subpoenas to these financial services companies asking them to hand over all records of money transfers over $500 to or from California, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and Mexico. Each administrative assignment requested records for six months at a time. In response, Western Union and Maxi provided 6.2 million financial documents, including personal information such as names and addresses, to HSI. All of the information was entered into a database called the Transaction Record Analysis Center (TRAC), which is run by a non-profit organization and has been facilitating law enforcement access to bulk financial data for 5 years.

Once again, pressure from Wyden brought about a change.

According to Senator Wyden, HSI ended the program in January 2022 after his office contacted HSI about it.

But that’s not enough for Wyden. His letter [PDF] wants more answers from ICE, leveraging its hasty abandonment of the program against him. This is illegal collection, as the EFF explains:

[T]his kind of mass surveillance is illegal. By law, these administrative subpoenas must seek documents “relevant” to an investigation by the agency. Simply put, there is no way that these broad requests for bulk records will only result in documents that are “relevant” to specific investigations; instead, he placed everyone who transferred money, including American people, under surveillance.

Excerpt from Wyden’s letter:

[T]he fact that HSI employees in Phoenix, Arizona have continued to send out these highly problematic bulk summonses every six months without oversight by HSI headquarters and DHS indicates a weakness in the central oversight of this reporting tool. surveillance. Moreover, the fact that a single request for information from a Senate office prompted HSI to immediately stop the flow of data suggests that the internal control system within DHS and HSI has failed.

This is far from the only problematic aspect of this program. For one thing, the program lasted for years before ICE adopted questionable mass surveillance. A settlement between Western Union and the Arizona Attorney General in 2010 over money laundering allegations opened up that fire hose, providing millions of transaction records from 2010 to 2019 – all of which could be viewed by federal, state and local law enforcement agencies without any legal recourse. approval.

According to HSI, that deal expired in 2019. That’s when ICE took over, requiring the same production for the next two years. In 2021, ICE expanded these requests to include Maxitransfers. These actions enabled ICE to obtain more than 6 million financial documents, which it managed to accomplish using just eight self-issued subpoenas. This is classic mass surveillance, Wyden points out. There’s no way the six million records are “relevant” to HSI investigations.

His letter points out that HSI’s testimony in February 2022 allowed members of his congressional oversight hearing on the long-running program for the first time. And ICE’s internal oversight was also circumvented, according to HSI’s own statements.

While HSI told my staff that the Special Agent in Charge of HSI Phoenix had spoken to HSI’s Deputy Director of Investigative Programs and an attorney in the field prior to issuing the first summons, no one asked to legal counsel to HST or DHS headquarters and HSI has never written or published a privacy impact assessment analyzing this program. Indeed, HSI officials acknowledged that they only alerted DHS privacy officials after my office contacted HS to request a briefing on the program in January 2022.

Wyden says he is all for engaging in legitimate law enforcement activities to stop money laundering and drug trafficking. But it’s not that. This is illegitimate and illegal mass collection that has been hidden from ICE’s multiple levels of oversight. It has also allowed ICE to continue doing the kinds of things that many are calling for its abolition… like disproportionately targeting minorities, low-income families, and immigrants who often use services like these because traditional banking options are not available.

If ICE wants to fight money laundering and thwart drug cartels, it needs to do better. And he has to follow the rules.

Instead of wasting resources collecting millions of transactions from people simply because they live or do business with people in a handful of southwestern states or have relatives in Mexico, HSI and other agencies should focus their resources on people who are actually suspected of breaking the law.

Hastily killing the illegal program won’t stop Wyden from demanding answers. While it’s great that the program is now dead, the flip side is that there’s probably another equally problematic program still running. It just hasn’t been discovered yet.

Filed Under: clear database, databases, dhs, financial info, hsi, ice cream, ron wyden, subpoenas

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