WSJ: Big Brother also collecting credit-card transactions

posted at 8:01 am on June 7, 2013 by Ed Morrissey

As if the surveillance state didn’t have enough to do, what with tracking every call in America and scanning every Internet transaction. The Wall Street Journal reported late last night that the NSA has been cataloguing credit card transactions as well, rendering utterly void any concept of transactional privacy:

The National Security Agency’s monitoring of Americans includes customer records from the three major phone networks as well as emails and Web searches, and the agency also has cataloged credit-card transactions, said people familiar with the agency’s activities.

The disclosure this week of an order by a secret U.S. court for Verizon Communications Inc.’s phone records set off the latest public discussion of the program. But people familiar with the NSA’s operations said the initiative also encompasses phone-call data from AT&T Inc. and Sprint Nextel Corp., records from Internet-service providers and purchase information from credit-card providers.  …

NSA also obtains access to data from Internet service providers on Internet use such as data about email or website visits, several former officials said. NSA has established similar relationships with credit-card companies, three former officials said.

It couldn’t be determined if any of the Internet or credit-card arrangements are ongoing, as are the phone company efforts, or one-shot collection efforts. The credit-card firms, phone companies and NSA declined to comment for this article.

Er, let’s test the one-shot theory a bit.  Let’s say that the NSA trolled millions of credit card transactions and found any kind of a useful pattern.  Would they stop acquiring data under those circumstances?  I highly doubt it; intelligence agencies always want more data to analyze, not less.

Here’s another question.  Exactly how many terrorists use credit cards to buy the kinds of products that would create those patterns?  I’m not going to posit that terrorists are geniuses by any stretch of the imagination, but it doesn’t take too much candlepower to know that credit-card transactions leave a paper trail even when the US government hasn’t acted as though George Orwell was writing a how-to manual when he published 1984 — sixty-four years ago tomorrow, in an odd coincidence.

DNI James Clapper gave a statement last night about PRISM that many interpreted as saying that the program only looked at foreign data, but Clapper’s a little Orwellian here, too:

National Intelligence Director James Clapper defended that program late Thursday saying procedures are in place that are approved by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court “to ensure that only non-U.S. persons outside the U.S. are targeted, and that minimize the acquisition, retention and dissemination of incidentally acquired information about U.S. persons.”

“Information collected under this program is among the most important and valuable intelligence information we collect, and is used to protect our nation from a wide variety of threats,” Clapper said in a statement.

Only non-US people are being targeted, but that doesn’t mean that they’re not looking at everything coming through the pipe. Clapper pledges that they’re trying to minimize the “acquisition, retention, and dissemination of incidentally acquired information about US persons” in a marvelously circular statement — how do you minimize the acquisition of “acquired information”?  They’re not avoiding or preventing the acquisition of data on “US people,” just trying to minimize its use. They’re only keeping data on non-US people.

Or so they say.  Trust them!  And hey, eventually, you’ll learn to love Big Brother.  Or else.

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My overall ‘conspiracy theory’ is that the gov’t is collecting all this information because it knows that we don’t like what it’s doing. So the gov’t is doing whatever it can to build a case against everyone in the event it needs to bully anybody into behaving properly. The ultimate end to all this ‘collection’ is to have something to use against the citizen, no matter how far-fetched the connection to a real crime is (zero tolerance).

The gov’t is planning to use this information to the detriment of the good, decent individuals in America. No other explanation seems genuinely reasonable to me.

leon on June 7, 2013 at 10:24 AM

and is used to protect our nation from a wide variety of threats,” Clapper said in a statement

That right there is chilling when you look at what Nappy Napolitano and her merry gang of DHS thugs have identified as potential threats, including retuning veterans, conservatives, Tea Party, and militia members.

FBI and military don’t view radical Islam or jihadists as threats since they’ve taken those “loaded phrases” out of their training manuals.

So, Mr. Claptrap, what, exactly, do you mean by “wide variety of threats”? … and to whom? Are you really talking threats to the safety of US citizens, or, as we’ve seen by the IRS release of confidential information, do you mean threats to the regime’s power?

AZfederalist on June 7, 2013 at 10:25 AM

There was a time when I thought “So what if gov is spying on Americans…I haven’t done anything wrong and I’ve got nothing to hide. Whatever it takes to catch the terrorists, I’m fine with.”

Someone once told me the flaw in my logic: giving the gov that much power is an invitation to abuse. I dismissed his statement. I thought his theory was unrealistic. Our gov would never abuse the Patriot Act or any other form of spying.

As more and more details have emerged over the NSA and IRS abuses, I must admit I was wrong. Very wrong. So allow me to rephrase my statement:

“I am fine with a Republican controlled White House spying on Americans, because I know they are seeking terrorists. I am NOT fine with a Democrat controlled White House because they will first declare the Right Wingers as a domestic terror threat, and then will abused gov power to target those groups.”

jediwebdude on June 7, 2013 at 10:26 AM

I have some questions…

Can all of this be stopped or have we already gone off the cliff?

Last question…

Does this mean Big Brother knows the identity of Allahpundit?

texgal on June 7, 2013 at 10:31 AM

… after all of these revelations: IRS, phone records, credit card transactions, etc. The next time a Republican is in office, I will absolutely not stand for any liberal shouting about fascism, tyrannical over-reach or any other criticisms of this sort. By their defense and acceptance of the actions of the current regime, they have lost all moral standing to mount any sort of criticism. Oh, an to you idiots who say that is inconsistent because of what Bush did — Bush access to phone records was limited to those records connecting to foreign phones. … in known terrorist regions. Obama has expanded this to ALL phone transactions — you know, what you liberals were screaming about as being absolute evil during the Bush administration. When Bush wasn’t doing that.

AZfederalist on June 7, 2013 at 10:32 AM

This FISA court is evil. They are all republican judges appointed by Roberts. Completely sad.

rubberneck on June 7, 2013 at 10:41 AM

Does this mean Big Brother knows the identity of Allahpundit?

texgal on June 7, 2013 at 10:31 AM

That may be the reason behind this entire program.

verbaluce on June 7, 2013 at 10:42 AM

I always figured with the reality of the war on terror the govt was doing things in much greater frequency than we were ever led to believe. And generally, I wasn’t worried about that, because I trusted that those agencies would be responsible. It is the nature of the WAR we are still fighting.

Of course – then I learned about the IRS and the EPA and DOJ and their “enemy’s lists” and I am not so sure that my earlier trust is still justified.

Oh – and as a snark to our liberal friends – your president campaigned against all of it and facilitated the jailing of an american citizen on a parole violation that never would have jailed him before just so he could maintain the facade that the WAR was over. If it’s over, stop the programs. If it is not, come clean on Benghazi and fire the people responsible for withholding aid to our people.

You have begun to lose the NYT – time to wake up.

Zomcon JEM on June 7, 2013 at 10:44 AM

Conservatives in Congress should call for the immediate repeal of the Patriot Act, and acknowledge that the Act gave too much power to the Executive Branch which was too tempting to misuse. They should then call for the NSA to destroy that data and cease all data collection activities in violation of the 4th Amendment…

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

Time to go back to the Constitutional approach to tracking terrorists. After all, we know the electronic dumpster diving didn’t detect the Boston terrorists. It turns out that data analysis can also be a crutch and limit our imagination in pursuing our foes.

dominigan on June 7, 2013 at 10:47 AM

jediwebdude on June 7, 2013 at 10:26 AM

Absolutely correct. I have come to that realization myself.

dominigan on June 7, 2013 at 10:48 AM

Big Brother is the new N word

Wagthatdog on June 7, 2013 at 10:50 AM

But people familiar with the NSA’s operations said the initiative also encompasses phone-call data from AT&T Inc. and Sprint Nextel Corp., records from Internet-service providers and purchase information from credit-card providers.

Let’s get this straight. Obama’s NSA is snooping on credit-card transactions as innocent Americans buy food and clothing (or maybe pressure cookers), but Obama’s campaign couldn’t be bothered checking whether credit-card campaign donations by Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, and Donald Duck just MIGHT be from foreign addresses.

Break the law, get elected, then change the law. Ain’t it great to be king?

Steve Z on June 7, 2013 at 10:51 AM

Exactly how many terrorists use credit cards to buy the kinds of products that would create those patterns?

One would think that terrorists trying to buy weapons or explosives would probably pay CASH, not only to avoid leaving a paper trail leading to themselves, but that the sellers would probably not want to attract police attention about selling weapons or explosives!

Heroin and cocaine are both illegal and expensive, but how many addicts pay for it on a credit card?

Steve Z on June 7, 2013 at 10:58 AM

Who needs a gun registry; who buys absolutely everything with cash?

Fenris on June 7, 2013 at 8:08 AM

I see from your Verizon phone GPS location records that you were parked in front of a federally-licensed gun dealer yesterday…

slickwillie2001 on June 7, 2013 at 11:10 AM

Did the NSA listen in on Romney Campaign phone calls? Did they share that info with White House? No? Prove it.

patch on June 7, 2013 at 11:14 AM

1 Data collected is no better than data interpreted (by total idiots)
2 Data collected on everybody for security reasons can reveal closet skeletons (having nothing whatsoever to do with security) that can be used to blackmail or smear people for monetary or political reasons.
3 A surfeit of data might make it harder to wade through mountains of statistical garbage -99.999999% extraneous-obfuscating or hindering rather than facilitating investigations.
4 A surfeit of data mining would require extra staff, extra equipment and perhaps extra buildings–all at taxpayers’ expense.
5 Rather than waste time and expense including everybody and the kitchen sink in your data base–often for politically correct reasons–wouldn’t it be more economical and efficacious to PROFILE those most likely to commit terrorists acts (HINT HINT HINT–Middle Easterners and Muslim Eurpoeans) and when ADDITIONAL suspicious activity is coupled with this profile, get a court order to wire-tap or internet monitor on a CASE BY CASE basis.
6 The overall effect of targeting everybody to catch a few, robs everybody of dignity, privacy and freedom–particularly when, as mentioned, profiling is the answer.Let’s not give an already dictatorial government even more power.

MaiDee on June 7, 2013 at 11:15 AM

Does this mean that the Obama administration can finally give us more info on those anonymous foreign credit card donations to his presidential campaign or are they only looking for Republican donors?

DaveDief on June 7, 2013 at 11:16 AM

Does this mean that the Obama administration can finally give us more info on those anonymous foreign credit card donations to his presidential campaign or are tell us they are only looking for Republican donors?

More like this, but they aren’t quite ready yet to spill the beans publicly. After all, conservative Republicans are the true enemies of this admin and a group ready to unleash terror on one and all. They must be carefully monitored.

hawkeye54 on June 7, 2013 at 11:24 AM

Isn’t this becoming a bit hard to keep up with?

Blaise on June 7, 2013 at 11:24 AM

The overall effect of targeting everybody to catch a few, robs everybody of dignity, privacy and freedom–particularly when, as mentioned, profiling is the answer.Let’s not give an already dictatorial government even more power.

Which is exactly what this admin, and too many on Capitol Hill are lustfully seeking.

hawkeye54 on June 7, 2013 at 11:26 AM

Isn’t this becoming a bit hard to keep up with?

Blaise on June 7, 2013 at 11:24 AM

Benghazi? What was that about again?

slickwillie2001 on June 7, 2013 at 11:28 AM

Isn’t this becoming a bit hard to keep up with?

Maybe that’s the point. Overwhelm us to the point of helplessness, frustration,fatigue and fatalistic submission not knowing what or have the ability to do. Hoping the masses just shrug it off and go on with life under BigBro.

hawkeye54 on June 7, 2013 at 11:33 AM

the terrorists have won

burserker on June 7, 2013 at 11:34 AM

Who needs a gun registry; who buys absolutely everything with cash?

Fenris on June 7, 2013 at 8:08 AM

I see from your Verizon phone GPS location records that you were parked in front of a federally-licensed gun dealer yesterday…

slickwillie2001 on June 7, 2013 at 11:10 AM

It’s right next to the grocery store. What would I be doing in a gun store?

Fenris on June 7, 2013 at 11:39 AM

Conservatives in Congress should call for the immediate repeal of the Patriot Act, and acknowledge that the Act gave too much power to the Executive Branch which was too tempting to misuse. They should then call for the NSA to destroy that data and cease all data collection activities in violation of the 4th Amendment…

dominigan on June 7, 2013 at 10:47 AM

Actually, they should not only call for the NSA to destroy the data, they should call for the destruction and dismantling of the NSA, DHS, TSA, and a few other “alphabet agencies” running roughshod over the citizens of the USA.

bigbeachbird on June 7, 2013 at 11:44 AM

I guess as long as you never buy anything that the government has a problem with, you have nothing to fear.

And isn’t that how our relationship with government should work?

hawksruleva on June 7, 2013 at 12:14 PM

On the plus side, all this monitoring allowed us to catch a Chechen who wanted to kill Americans in Massachusetts.

Oh, wait, it didn’t? So they do all this monitoring and don’t notice the guy who was born in an area known for terrorism, who later visited known terrorist enclaves, AND WHO THE RUSSIANS SAID WAS SUSPICIOUS?

Maybe the dragnet isn’t working.

hawksruleva on June 7, 2013 at 12:17 PM

“The attack in Benghazi was a result of YouTube video.”

Seven Percent Solution on June 7, 2013 at 12:44 PM

The IRS can’t find the receipts for that $4,000,000 conference? Some rooms were ordinarily $3,500 a night?

I hope that everyone has been checking their credit card entries.

IlikedAUH2O on June 7, 2013 at 1:04 PM

As if the surveillance state…….

I’m sorry, did Ed start his post with this phrase? A win for the progressive academy. Wowza.

libfreeordie on June 7, 2013 at 1:15 PM

Tyranny is the intersection of the extreme left and right.

Libtard, YOU are Never free
Nor deserve to be

Schadenfreude on June 7, 2013 at 1:44 PM

Remember when someone jokingly said ‘they might be looking to see who had bought pressure cookers’?

Now we find out that they DID look to see who had bought them, when, where, and how many. They could also check to see if their friends, as identified by phone records, had purchased such items.

What a wondefull world of possibilities spying on people can uncover!

So if Jane bought a pressure cooker, and grandpa bought some fireworks, the NSA could tell the FBI to get a warrent to wiretap her phones! Now IF they had info that Uncle Bill had donated to a Tea Party group, they could open up a RICO investigation!

Freddy on June 7, 2013 at 2:01 PM

“I am fine with a Republican controlled White House spying on Americans, because I know they are seeking terrorists. I am NOT fine with a Democrat controlled White House because they will first declare the Right Wingers as a domestic terror threat, and then will abused gov power to target those groups.”

jediwebdude on June 7, 2013 at 10:26 AM

Wow.

libfreeordie on June 7, 2013 at 2:37 PM

Wow.
libfreeordie on June 7, 2013 at 2:37 PM

Indeed…. The Naivety … Thinking the Republicans aren’t almost as bad as the Democraps.

LegendHasIt on June 7, 2013 at 2:53 PM

I don’t care if the government has my credit card transactions as long as they don’t share them with my husband!

bopbottle on June 7, 2013 at 3:13 PM

It turns out that data analysis can also be a crutch and limit our imagination in pursuing our foes.

dominigan on June 7, 2013 at 10:47 AM

Reading the thread, there is a serious concern about which foes this administration wants to pursue.

AesopFan on June 7, 2013 at 3:36 PM

Lets postulate a hypothetical…One of the greatest goals pursued relentlessly by the left for half a century is the dream of gun control, defined as some government agency saying who and when Americans might own or carry arms. The greatest obstacle (discounting silly ideas like 100 million citizens against the goal and a minor constitutional restriction) has always been the anonymity of the vast number of gun owners It was impossible to discover with any certainty who had guns and of what sort. The answer, the crucial first step, has always been a national registry of gun owners and guns. Now we find the government has been tracking credit card purchases…Just how hard would it be to filter that data for transactions at gun shows and gun shops? I figure in a decade one would have a list of gun owners that was maybe 90% accurate. Then it is one short step to confiscation, for or own safety of course.

JIMV on June 7, 2013 at 10:49 PM

Indeed…. The Naivety … Thinking the Republicans aren’t almost as bad as the Democraps.

LegendHasIt on June 7, 2013 at 2:53 PM

Or that the Democraps won’t gleefully use every spy power previously used by Republicans to their own sinister ends.

MelonCollie on June 8, 2013 at 10:48 AM

Does this mean I can’t order meds from overseas any more?
Color me paranoid,those freaking bambi buds will be using this metadata to investigate anyone they don’t like.

smit on June 8, 2013 at 10:16 PM

Does the “Of Course, There Is A Small Fee For This Service. . .” rule apply here, too?

TimBuk3 on June 9, 2013 at 10:26 AM

WSJ: Big Brother also collecting credit-card transactions

Helps their “economists” cook the numbers for their monthly and quarterly reports that Wall Street investors lap up.

But in real life it gives them a gauge for understanding their progress in the Cloward-Piven strategy…and maybe some extortion possibilities on the side.

Dr. ZhivBlago on June 9, 2013 at 3:17 PM

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