We talk all the time about the importance of keeping your credit card information out of the hands of strangers so as to avoid credit card fraud. But it looks as though there is nothing you can to do to keep it out of the hands of the federal government. On the heels of the revelation that the National Security Agency (NSA) keeps tabs on phone and internet records comes news that they’re doing the same with credit card transactions.
As reported by Time, unnamed sources are saying the NSA obtains credit card information from credit card companies, including:
- Account numbers
- Date and time of transactions
- Location of transactions
- Transaction amounts
Note, names and the specifics of products or services purchased are not included in the information provided to the NSA. However, there are ways around that. If transactions associated with a particular account number raise a red flag to federal agents, it is possible to track down the name of the person associated with the account. It is also possible, via “merchant category codes,” to deduce the nature of products or services purchased.
What exactly is the NSA looking for? Anything to suggest terrorist activity. In the process, however, the federal government is evidently obtaining and scrutinizing credit card information of ordinary Americans. As the Time article states: “Technically, there are safeguards in place to keep American citizens out of the NSA’s dragnet, but that’s not to say the agency wouldn’t turn over dirt dug up on an American citizen over to a sister agency like the FBI.” Some argue, what difference does it make if you have nothing to hide? But at what point does government surveillance of private citizens cross the line into a violation of constitutional rights? Already, the American Civil Liberties Union is suing members of the Obama Administration over the collection of phone records. Will a lawsuit over collection of credit card information be next?