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Are credit card transactions next on NSA list?

by Peter Andrew
Are credit card transactions next on NSA list?

Appearing before a July 17 House Judiciary Committee hearing, senior administration officials refused to rule out building a vast database of credit card transactions, similar to the National Security Agency’s one we now know exists for phone calls, according to an Associated Press (AP) report published on the same day.

When asked a direct question about plans for such a credit card database (along with ones that would record Internet searches and hotel stays) by Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas, the general counsel in the Office of Director of National Intelligence was evasive. According to AP, Robert S. Litt responded “saying it would depend on whether the government believed those records — like phone records — to be relevant to terrorism investigations.”

Credit card transactions cataloged already?

Some question whether this and previous administrations ever regard anything at all as irrelevant to terrorism investigations. Indeed, it may be that a NSA database recording credit card transactions already exists, according to a Wall Street Journal report of June 7, which quoted unnamed “people familiar with the agency’s activities.”

Anyone who watches cop or spy shows on television knows that intelligence and law-enforcement agencies can already easily obtain phone, credit card and other records, as long as they can show a judge sufficient cause to justify the issuing of a warrant. What’s new about the databases currently under discussion is that — provided phone and credit card companies co-operate — everyone’s activities can be cataloged without warrants while powerful data-mining tools are employed to uncover suspicious patterns. Some question the wisdom of allowing the government to intrude so far into citizens’ lives, while others point to possible security benefits, and we explored a number of these arguments in Big data: Who is watching your credit card use?

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