WSJ: Big Brother also collecting credit-card transactions

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.