Tales of the American Gestapo: "Hotwatch" Edition
Yet more shit to be outraged about:
Federal law enforcement routinely tracks individuals through their credit cards, cell phones, car rentals and even store customer loyalty programs without obtaining a warrant, an online privacy activist has discovered.
According to a document (PDF) obtained from the Department of Justice by online privacy activist Christopher Soghoian, federal agents working on a criminal investigation can draw up their own paperwork requesting that credit companies and retailers give the agents real-time access to purchases made by a particular person.
No court reviews these orders, and the only role courts play in the process is to issue a non-disclosure order to the retailer or credit card company involved, meaning the person being tracked will never be notified of the surveillance.
The process is known as a "hotwatch," and it can be used to spy on cell phones, credit card use, purchases at stores when a customer loyalty card is used, car rentals, and flight ticket purchases. The process "sidestep[s] any Fourth Amendment protections," Soghoian writes.
Ryan Singel at Wired notes the document doesn't set out standards for when an agent can obtain a "hotwatch" order. "The Justice Department told Soghoian the document is the only one it could find relating to 'hotwatches' — which means there is either no policy or the department is withholding relevant documents."