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Why is Purchasing Money-Counting Machines Legal?

The DEA kept a massive record of individuals who bought money counting machines. This is a program to track Americans who purchased money-counting machines from 2008 until 2013 and allegedly gathered tens of thousands of records.

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Money counters aren't illegal, because they're mostly bought by businesses that deal in real financial transfers. The DEA, on the other hand, assumed that if anyone tried to buy a money counting machine, they were probably engaged in money smuggling or narcotics trafficking. The DEA gave broad subpoenas to suppliers of such devices in an attempt to capture these alleged offenders, and the data was stored in a database.

The DEA's usage of such systems is detailed in a study published by the Office of the Inspector General. Although portions of the study have been redacted, a main segment has been left uncensored. Sarah St. Vincent, a Twitter user, was the first to notice this inadvertent spill.

The DEA withheld this knowledge from the courts and others because they thought it might jeopardize their investigations. If suspects became aware that the DEA gathered this information, they would procure money counters by other methods.

"The agents were told to claim in files that they got a tip from a source of intelligence indicating that the [suspect] might be engaged in cocaine dealing and money laundering.

Can Money Counters Detect Fake Money?

Many other references to "money counters" were meant to be redacted from the study, but this part was not. Land officers complained that the software was causing too many false positives to be effective, according to the study. The DEA improved the software over time and was willing to make arrests and recover the illicit currency.

The system was never reviewed by the courts because the DEA kept it secret from them. Parallel construction was used by the DEA when they needed to operate on a lead created by the software. This is a tactic that includes collecting knowledge by dubious methods and eventually seeking a selective warrant to access it lawfully.

The processing of vast sums of money is possible with money counting devices. Since drug trafficking is normally a cash enterprise, and most people don't need to contend with large stacks of bills, it's understandable why the DEA will be interested in these details.

As part of a collaborative DEA-inspector general procedure, the published version of the paper, which stated that the software could not be legitimate, was extensively censored. The inspector general, however, refused to omit a segment where it was stated that the DEA did not mention where their leads came from in case files due to an error, according to the New York Times.

According to the New York Times, the DEA system was one of many shut down after Edward Snowden disclosed a huge archive United States government documents, including the presence of an NSA program to gather bulk information on Americans' domestic phone calls, which was subsequently deemed unconstitutional by courts and substituted by Congress with a scaled-back program. 

It's conceivable that the successor scheme will be phased down as well. The DEA claims to have been spooked by the uproar around bulk records processing systems.

Is it illegal to Have a Money Counting Machine in the United States?

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According to the New York Times, another DEA scheme that utilized administrative subpoenas to obtain bulk logs of outgoing international phone calls from the United States to countries related to narcotics trafficking was shut down in 2013, the same year that FBI agents expressed their concerns regarding the money-counter sales records program and it was discontinued. The inspector general study came as near as it could to declaring the phone-data activity unconstitutional, according to the Washington Post.

Deputy Inspector General Bill Blier stated in a statement that the database of outbound foreign calls was "not related to particular cases or specific persons under scrutiny," as required by statute. “This usage of the subpoena power runs counters to judicial rulings requiring that regulatory subpoenas issued by a government entity be for documents that are appropriate or material to a particular investigation.”

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Resources and References

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