By: M. Emily Mahana
Low-income and marginalized communities disproportionately suffer greater surveillance and privacy abuses than any other class. For instance, states invasively might require impoverished individuals who seek or rely on public assistance to subject themselves to “drug tests, DNA testing of children, fingerprinting” or “intrusive questioning about intimate relationships.” What the Arizona Attorney General’s Office is doing is an egregious government intrusion into the privacy of all people, but particularly low-income individuals and persons of color.
Between 2014 and 2021, the Arizona Attorney general issued 140 subpoenas to money transfer companies demanding they share their customer records for the next year. These records have been placed in a database housed within a “non-profit” company called the Transaction Record Analysis Center (TRAC). It has collected over “150 million money transfers between people in the U.S. and in more than 20 countries.” Essentially, “[o]rdinary people’s private records are being siphoned indiscriminately into a massive database, with access given to virtually any cop who wants it” without a warrant.
The alleged reason for the creation of TRAC was to bust drug cartels, sex trafficking and money laundering. However, this surveillance is undeniably racially-motivated. In the documents released by the ACLU, a TRAC slideshow showed how the database’s data could scan categories like “’Middle Eastern/Arabic names” in bulk transaction records.” Over 600 law-enforcement entities have access to this data. These records include the names of the recipients, senders, as well as the sum sent via wire transfer. It does not matter if the wire transfer was between two U.S. based persons, or whether the transaction was sent internationally.
Millions of people send money via wire transfer. This is especially common for individuals who do not have a bank account. In its 2021 National Survey of Unbanked households, the FDIC found that individuals without a bank account were more likely to be part of a low-income household, and were more likely to be Black or Hispanic. Undocumented persons also frequently use wire transfers to send funds earned in the United States to family members living internationally.
Probably aware of the above facts, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection contributed to the TRAC database’s budget. Possibly to curb total abuse by ICE, the TRAC did place a “$500 minimum threshold” to allegedly “avoid collecting the overwhelming majority of family remittances back to Mexico and other countries, which typically fall below that threshold.” This $500 threshold does mean that many transactions sent via wire transfer by low-income individuals are not collected by TRAC. However, this is a very meager “bright spot” if it can even be called that. The fact of the matter is that every wire transfer above $500 is collected. Again, this is an egregious issue for all people; however, it is especially so for low-income individuals and persons of color. This is because people without bank accounts are more likely to use wire transfer, and they are more likely to be low-income and/or persons of color. Therefore, due to the Arizona Attorney General’s illegal wire transfer surveillance, low-income individuals and people of color suffer greater privacy injuries.
Emily (she/her) graduated from Brigham Young University – Idaho with a B.A. in History. She is a 3L at Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law. Her legal interests range from disability rights to social justice issues affecting minorities. Her personal interests include baking bread, cooking curries, and skincare.
 Michele E. Gilman, The Class Differential in Privacy Law, 77 Brook. L. Rev. 253 (2012).
 Mary Madden, Michele Gilman, Karen Levy, and Alice Marwick, Privacy, Poverty, and Big Data: A Matrix of Vulnerabilities for Poor Americans, 95 WASH. U. L. REV. 53, 59 (2017).
 ACLU of AZ., ACLU Raises Alarm Over Arizona Attorney General’s Illegal Financial Surveillance Program (Jan. 18, 2023), https://www.aclu.org/press-releases/aclu-raises-alarm-over-arizona-attorney-generals-illegal-financial-surveillance.
 Dustin Volz and Byron Tau, Little-Known Surveillance Program Captures Money Transfers Between U.S. and More Than 20 Countries WALL St. J. (Jan. 18, 2023, 7:30 PM), https://www.wsj.com/articles/little-known-surveillance-program-captures-money-transfers-between-u-s-and-more-than-20-countries-11674019904.
 ACLU of AZ, 2022-05-02 TRAC Email Re Data Policy, MOU, Agency List, https://www.aclu.org/2022-05-02-trac-email-re-data-policy-mou-agency-list.
 Volz & Tau, supra note 4.