The National Security Agency isn’t just snooping into phone and online communications. It also appears to be keeping a close eye on credit card transactions. Why? And what can they see?
The presumed purpose of NSA’s credit card tracking is to help it stop terrorism. Agents hope to ferret out terrorists who are buying bomb ingredients, visiting hotbeds of radicalism, and moving funds illicitly. But the program’s reach is so broad, some say it will inevitably sweep up purchases made by innocent American citizens, as well.
“There is a long history in the government looking at the credit card transactions in specific cases where they’re trying to solve a crime,” says Madeline Aufsesser, a senior analyst at the Aite Group. In the current case dominating the news lately, though, the evidence seems to indicate that this operation wasn’t so much about looking for a needle in a haystack as sweeping up the entire haystack for analysis.