Do the Feds know what’s in YOUR stocking?

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Big Brother is watching, and you might not even realize that you are the one being watched!  A recent story on revealed that:  “Federal law enforcement agencies have been tracking Americans in real-time using credit cards, loyalty cards and travel reservations” without the subscriber ever finding out – when the administrative subpoena is served with a Court Order for Non-Disclosure.  

That’s right: the government is keeping tabs on your credit card purchases.

Under this Department of Justice program called “Hot Watch,” federal agents can request “real-time information on a person’s purchases, followed up by an order from a judge that the surveillance not be disclosed.”  The non-disclosure aspect of the order effectively prevents the person whose information is being subpoenaed from ever finding out.  The program means that federal agents have unfettered access to purchases made using forms of payment other than cash. 

This is troubling on many fronts because these administrative subpoenas—advocated as the “preferred method”— function as a judicial rubber stamp for warrantless searches.  How can innocent people who have been subjected to such a search find out that their privacy has been compromised?  What is to prevent an officer who requests the Hot Watch information from doing so, say, to keep tabs on a former lover or ex-spouse? And how many innocuous activities or purchases are being scrutinized—wasting law enforcement resources on useless intelligence?

The Washington Post’s current “Top Secret America” series does a good job of explaining this new “alternative geography,” essentially a parallel world that is filled with surveillance monitoring capabilities.

Learn more about the ACLU’s work on domestic intelligence gathering.