Documents recently obtained under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) have disclosed that federal law enforcement agencies have been monitoring American citizens’ credit card and loyalty card usage, and travel reservations without obtaining a court order.
Commonly known as “Hotwatch” orders, these ploys allow federal agencies to engage in real-time tracking of individuals under investigation utilizing credit card companies, calling cards, rental car providers and even retail loyalty programs. This is a further expansion of the Justice Department’s authority without Congressional approval, and is fomented by the over-hyped fear of terrorism in the wake of the 9/11 tragedy.
Agents are essentially able to write their own “subpoenas” for real-time credit card information, which judges willingly follow with a non-disclosure order. This precludes an individuals ever knowing they were spied on. If agents use the traditional, probable cause route to obtain a search warrant, the individual will eventually discover the investigation.
As obtaining stored records is relatively easy, agents generally ask for all historical account records from the credit card company or companies. This request for historical data allows the investigating agency access to a live feed of transactions.
Federal agencies defend their actions as a necessity in fighting the “war on terror”. Since the horrible devastation of 9/11, federal agencies have worked to keep the panic level high among American citizens in order to expand the scope and measure of investigative activities into areas that clearly violate Constitutional restrictions. The Patriot Act was simply the “camel’s nose under the tent” which has now turned into millions of illegal recordings of phone messages and the use of electronic strip searches and intrusive pat downs in airports.
This discovery is interesting, in light of Barack Obama’s campaign position railing against the Bush administration’s policy of warrant-less wiretapping. Instead of a more open, less intrusive government the Obama administration has turned up the volume on federal law enforcement overreach.
Those elected to protect their constituents from such blatant end runs on the Constitution are also noticeably silent on the issue. There is no Congressional outcry against this assault on American civil liberties. But then again, the saddest part of the story is the lack of protest from the American citizenry, who are willing to accept this violation of their freedom in order to feel “safer” – a trade-off that is laughable considering the number of deaths from terrorism has averaged less than 300 per year for the last 10 years. For many Americans no price is too high to avoid another 9/11….even if it means total servitude to an out of control federal government.