ACLU: AZ Attorney General's Office has database monitoring millions of money transfers

Published: Friday, January 20, 2023 - 3:40pm
Updated: Saturday, January 21, 2023 - 9:04am

The ACLU says the Arizona Attorney General’s Office is at the center of an illegal surveillance program that monitors money transfers across the Southwest.

The public records investigation involves more than 700 law enforcement entities across the country. 

Since 2010, the Attorney General’s Office has collected records of money transfers from some companies that exceed $500 sent to and from New Mexico, Arizona, California, Texas and Mexico.

Western Union had to pay for and send records to a law enforcement database, Transaction Record Analysis Center (TRAC), as part of a settlement from a money laundering case. Other companies were compelled to send records to the database from subpoenas a state appellate court previously ruled were illegal. 

Federal agencies like DHS have also issued subpoenas and added data. Nathan Freed Wessler with the ACLU says 145 million records were in the database as of 2021 and more than 12,000 had access or still do.

“It’s really quite disturbing to see here what is one of the most overbroad and extensive mass government surveillance programs we’ve come across in recent years being set up in virtual secret by a state government in order to gather as much information from as many people from around the country as possible.”Wessler said. 

Wessler said those communities include lower income individuals, immigrants, and people of color.

"It does not affect everyone equally, the brunt of this privacy burden falls disproportionately on members of communities who have to rely on these money transfer services instead of traditional banks," He said.

It is unlikely Attorney General Kris Mayes will end the practice, as a statement from her office to Arizona Public Media says it’s helped identify drug smugglers and human traffickers.