Thursday, December 02, 2010

DOJ's "hotwatch" real-time surveillance of credit card transactions

A 10 page Powerpoint presentation (pdf) that I recently obtained through a Freedom of Information Act Request to the Department of Justice, reveals that law enforcement agencies routinely seek and obtain real-time surveillance of credit card transaction. The government's guidelines reveal that this surveillance often occurs with a simple subpoena, thus sidestepping any Fourth Amendment protections.


On October 11, 2005, the US Attorney from the Eastern District of New York submitted a court filing in the case of In re Application For Pen Register and Trap and Trace Device With Cell Site Location Authority (Magistrate's Docket No. 05-1093), which related to the use of pen register requests for mobile phone location records.

In that case, the US Attorney’s office relied on authority they believed was contained in the All Writs Act to justify their request for customer location information. In support of its claim, the office stated that:

Currently, the government routinely applies for and upon a showing of relevance to an ongoing investigation receives “hotwatch” orders issued pursuant to the All Writs Act. Such orders direct a credit card issuer to disclose to law enforcement each subsequent credit card transaction effected by a subject of investigation immediately after the issuer records that transaction.

A search of Google, Lexisnexis and Westlaw revealed nothing related to "hotwatch" orders, and so I filed a FOIA request to find out more. If the government "routinely" applies for and obtains hotwatch orders, why wasn't there more information about these.

It took a year and a half to learn anything. The Executive office of US Attorneys at the Department of Justice located 10 pages of relevant information, but decided to withhold them in full. I filed my first ever FOIA appeal, which was successful, albeit very slow, and finally received those 10 pages this week.

As the document makes clear, Federal law enforcement agencies do not limit their surveillance of US residents to phone calls, emails and geo-location information. They are also interested in calling cards, credit cards, rental cars and airline reservations, as well as retail shopping clubs.

The document also reveals that DOJ's preferred method of obtaining this information is via an administrative subpoena. The only role that courts play in this process is in issuing non-disclosure orders to the banks, preventing them from telling their customers that the government has spied on their financial transactions. No Fourth Amendment analysis is conducted by judges when issuing such non-disclosure orders.

While Congress has required that the courts compile and publish detailed statistical reports on the degree to which law enforcement agencies engage in wiretapping, we currently have no idea how often law enforcement agencies engage in real-time surveillance of financial transactions.


Taylor Wray said...

Hot damn! That's some journalism right there. Nice work!

Anonymous said...

Sumbit what you have found to Wikileaks :)

BILL said...

Added your blog to my daily list . Good work. Found lead at Forbes , while doing D.D. on PAY (Verifone Holdings Inc)

Anonymous said...

for more information about our conferences dealing with crimes committed by FBI agents to see a partial list of crimes committed by FBI agents over 1500 pages long
forums.signonsandiego. com/showthread.php?t=59139

to view a partial list of FBI agents arrested for pedophilia see
campusactivism. org/phpBB3/viewforum.php?f=29

also see

Anonymous said...

annotated bibliography

Bari, Judi. TIMBER WARS. Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press, 1994.
The F.B.I. attempted to stop the political activity of Judi Bari and Daryl Cherney by exploding a
bomb under their car. Daryl Cherney and Judi Bari filed a Civil lawsuit
against the FBI and Oakland police. A jury awarded them $4.4 million
dollars in 2003. see

Bowen Roger. INNOCENCE IS NOT ENOUGH: The Life and Death of Herbert Norman
New York USA M.E. Sharpe Inc 1988
Looks at FBI assassination of Herbert Norman, Canadian Ambassador to Egypt.

Buitrago, Ann Mari. F.B.I. FILES. Grove Press, 1981.
Covers the procedures for obtaining and interpreting your F.B.I. file.

Burnham, David. ABOVE THE LAW. Scribner, 1996.
Looks at secret deals and fixing of cases by the Justice Department for corporations.
Burnham was the New York Times reporter who broke the story about New York City cop Serpico and Police corruption.
He was the reporter on route to meet Karen Silkwood when she was found murdered. Read his other book A LAW UNTO ITSELF.
It details how FBI agents collaborate with the IRS to target political activists.
see his important website about the FBI

Burnham, David A LAW UNTO ITSELF Vintage January 30, 1991 ISBN-10: 0679732837
Exposes FBI agents using the IRS to cripple political activists.

Buttino, Frank. A SPECIAL AGENT. William Morrow, 1993.
Investigates F.B.I. attacks on gay FBI agents .
This book is written by a FBI agent who is gay. It details how other FBI
agents tormented him .

Carson, Clayborne. MALCOLM X: THE F.B.I. FILE. Carroll & Graf, 1991.
Looks at the evidence for the F.B.I. assassination of Malcolm X.

Cashill,Jack, Sanders,James. FIRST STRIKE Thomas Nelson Press, 2003
Overwhelming evidence presented by Dr. Cashill on the downing of TWA
Flight 800 by a missle over Long Island and the ensuing cover-up by FBI
agents.One of my favorite books. see their documentary about the same
subject called SILENCED here

Charns, Alexander. CLOAK AND GAVEL. University of Illinois Press. 1992.
After reviewing thousands of pages of FBI documents the attorney author
exposes the FBI illegal phone tapping of the Supreme Court and how the
FBI fix court cases and work behind the scenes to get "their man"
appointed to the Supreme Court. Written by a lawyer active in Human

Churchill, Ward. AGENTS OF REPRESSION. South End Press, 1988.
Professor Churchill gives first hand accounts of F.B.I. death squad
activities. This book is a classic and is a must read along with THE

Mauibrad said...


Anonymous said...

FWIW, this is clearly a somewhat dated document, since it has example dates in 2004 and refers to Providian, a company that hasn't existed since 2005.

Of course that doesn't mean DoJ isn't still doing essentially the same things, but there has been relevant statutory change since (e.g. Patriot Act renewal 2005, FISA update w/telco immunity 2008) and that could well influence their MO.

It is also well known in the ISP business that the feds have been pushing the envelope on what "pen register" is analogous to in the modern world for as long as there has been an ISP industry, because ECPA (1986) makes "pen register" information (i.e. metadata about electronic communications) subject to an unscrutinized administrative subpoena. The Patriot Act formalized the broad analogy that the courts had already generally agreed with.

Also, it is not quite right that credit card networks reliably provide "real time" tracking. Most people can look at their own card statements and find examples of transactions taking days to hit the card issuer.

Anonymous said...

The 4th Amendment died long ago. This is just further proof that the US government considers that all of its citizens are nothing more than chattle.

Anonymous said...

Remember what we are discussing is the Age of Wiretapping. Furthermore, when identity fraud is as prevalent as it is, the Bureau has every reason to watch the swiping of the card itself. Realize something: the government knows so much about the citizenry now that they truly are this "Big Brother" watching our movements. You should be trusting of these folks that they are looking for two things: 1) the frequency with which a transaction occurs without the swiping of a card and 2) the typical speed of an internet dialed card. You must understand that the FBI, DEA, CIA are all there for us. They aren't looking to poison you or arrest you. Their job is to investigate. That is what they are doing. Whatever you do, don't get mad at individuals such as agents. They are often on a group mission and this may be uncomfortable for them as well. If you want to be a smart elic about it, walk off thinking to yourself: "ah, yes. My tax dollars at work." But that is snoody. Ever heard of saying hello to someone? Just say hi and let it be.that. don't get tripped out. These are just people remember.