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March 09, 2006

Big Brother's Got Computers Rights, Law

Columnist Bob Kerr wrote recently about a couple who ran afoul of the Department of Homeland Security when they decided to pay down their credit card balance. Excerpt:

[Walter and Deana Soehnge] paid down some debt. The balance on their JCPenney Platinum MasterCard had gotten to an unhealthy level. So they sent in a large payment, a check for $6,522.

And an alarm went off. A red flag went up. The Soehnges' behavior was found questionable.

And all they did was pay down their debt. They didn't call a suspected terrorist on their cell phone. They didn't try to sneak a machine gun through customs.

They just paid a hefty chunk of their credit card balance. And they learned how frighteningly wide the net of suspicion has been cast.

After sending in the check, they checked online to see if their account had been duly credited. They learned that the check had arrived, but the amount available for credit on their account hadn't changed.

So Deana Soehnge called the credit-card company. Then Walter called. [...]

They were told, as they moved up the managerial ladder at the call center, that the amount they had sent in was much larger than their normal monthly payment. And if the increase hits a certain percentage higher than that normal payment, Homeland Security has to be notified. And the money doesn't move until the threat alert is lifted. [...]

[DHS can do this because of] changes in something called the Bank Privacy Act. [Emphasis added]

In case you had any lingering doubts about whether massive, automated surveillance of Americans — the kind of data-mining that was supposedly banned when Congress defunded the Total Information Awareness program — is still going on, this story is a reality check.

Big Brother's got computers. I think we can safely assume those computers are scanning a whole lot more than just credit card payments.

[Thanks, Mark]

Posted by Jonathan at March 9, 2006 05:57 PM  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb