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News Link • Surveillance

Feds Warrantlessly Tracking Americans’ Credit Cards in Real Time

Federal law enforcement agencies have been tracking Americans in real-time using credit cards, loyalty cards and travel reservations without getting a court order, a new document released under a government sunshine request shows. The document, obtained by security researcher Christopher Soghoian, explains how so-called “Hotwatch” orders allow for real-time tracking of individuals in a criminal investigation via credit card companies, rental car agencies, calling cards, and even grocery store loyalty programs. The revelation sheds a little more light on the Justice Department’s increasing power and willingness to surveil Americans with little to no judicial or Congressional oversight. For credit cards, agents can get real-time information on a person’s purchases by writing their own subpoena, followed up by a order from a judge that the surveillance not be disclosed. Agents can also go the traditional route — going to a judge, proving probable cause and getting a search warrant — which means the target will eventually be notified they were spied on. The document suggests that the normal practice is to ask for all historical records on an account or individual from a credit card company, since getting stored records is generally legally easy. Then the agent sends a request for “Any and all records and information relating directly or indirectly to any and all ongoing and future transactions or events relating to any and all of the following person(s), entitities, account numbers, addresses and other matters…” That gets them a live feed of transaction data.

1 Comments in Response to

Comment by Ross Wolf
Entered on:

How difficult is it to avoid government surveillance? Tougher Each Day.

With or without warrants law enforcement is tracking in real time Americans use of credit cards, documenting what they bought, who they paid, e.g. their doctor; law enforcement is documenting Americans’ travel and hotel reservations, when and where they rented and return a car; track Citizens’ phone card calls; calls made and received on their cell, home and office phone. Law enforcement can do all this by alleging to a judge that a person is a person of interests, without providing provable cause or evidence a person targeted for surveillance committed a crime.

Honest Americans are less likely to believe they could be the subject of warrant-less government surveillance. At the increasing rate government is spying on lawful Americans, it wouldn’t be surprising in some investigative cases, if law enforcement without warrants bugged products Citizens bought using a credit card and had shipped to their home, such as electronic equipment purchased on the Internet e.g. fax machines and computer equipment that have a power source for voice transmission when plugged in; law enforcement tracking someone’s credit card use would be alerted, to intercept a credit card user’s shipped purchase, and know the address a package was sent.

Lawful Americans may have to go to extreme lengths to protect their privacy by exploiting weaknesses in government warrant-less surveillance. It would be funny if it weren’t so serious. For example, a lawful Citizen might have a friend rent the hotel room where he or she wants to take their boss’s spouse for a tryst. Law enforcement relies on credit cards and phone records to track Citizens. So someone leaving town who wants privacy and does not want to be tracked, might (lawfully in writing) not breaking any law, give permission to a friend to use their credit card while they are out of town, at restaurants and coffee shops where they don’t ask for ID’ for small purchases—provided the intent, is not to establish an alibi for the person leaving town to commit a crime elsewhere. If you use a credit card in a restaurant or store that has time/dated video, the feds need only match the time a credit card was processed at a commercial establishment with the user’s face shown on the video to determine who used a credit card. I remember reading someplace I can’t recall, about a guy on the run who gave his calling card to a stranger enabling the pursued person time to travel the opposite direction 2,000 miles to leave the country. Law enforcement surveillance has gotten so intrusive, it is believed but not confirmed, that criminals to travel undetected are having people with clean records buy RVs to drive them around the country and sign the check in form at RV Parks while the criminal passenger(s) stay hidden in the recreational vehicle enjoying the comforts of almost home.

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