Friday, December 3, 2010

Can the Government Track Credit Card Use in Real Time?

An article I found today claims that "Federal law enforcement routinely tracks individuals through their credit cards, cell phones, car rentals and even store customer loyalty programs without obtaining a warrant." I don't know if this is accurate or how wide-spread the practice is.

The interesting Fourth Amendment issue is aggregation of data. Almost all of the data described are transaction records maintained by third parties. The information would, thus, seem not to be private or subject to a reasonable expectation of privacy.

However, as with GPS tracking data, the issue is whether the aggregation of a substantial amount of personal data creates a unique privacy concern. By gathering all of this transaction data, the government can obtain a detailed picture of a person's life, and habits, including, medical, or financial information or political or religious views. This would likely include information a person has a right to keep secret, and about which an individual has a reasonable expectation of privacy.

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