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Feds Check Credit Reports Without a Subpoena

kdawson posted more than 7 years ago | from the thanks-Patriot-Act dept.

United States 290

An anonymous reader points out that, by using National Security Letters, the FBI and other agencies can legally pull your credit report. The letters have been used by the FBI (mostly) but in some cases by the CIA and Defense Department. From the article: "'These statutory tools may provide key leads for counterintelligence and counterterrorism investigations,' Whitman said. 'Because these are requests for information rather than court orders, a DOD request under the NSL statutes cannot be compelled absent court involvement.'" Recipients of the letters, banks and credit bureaus, usually hand over the requested information voluntarily. A posting at tothecenter.com quotes the Vice President on the use of the letters: "It's perfectly legitimate activity. There's nothing wrong or illegal with it. It doesn't violate people's civil rights... The Defense Department gets involved because we've got hundreds of bases inside the United States that are potential terrorist targets."

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290 comments

Well, Dick Cheney would know... (2, Funny)

$RANDOMLUSER (804576) | more than 7 years ago | (#17632068)

He would never spy on American citizens unless he had a really really good reason to.

Re:Well, Dick Cheney would know... (5, Funny)

IcyNeko (891749) | more than 7 years ago | (#17632140)

Hey guys, why do i suddenly have an account in the Cayman islands in the name of "Bobby Bo's Bread Shop"? And when did i suddenly take a $2 million loan from a Saudi oil company?

Guys?... Gu-...

Re:Well, Dick Cheney would know... (2, Funny)

truthsearch (249536) | more than 7 years ago | (#17632448)

Guys?... Gu-...%*R!@ NO CARRIER

Fixed that for ya.

Of course. (2, Funny)

electrosoccertux (874415) | more than 7 years ago | (#17632444)

I'm completely fine with anybody in the government checking out my purchasing activities. You have nothing to hide, so why should you be concerned with this? It's not like government has a history of abusing power, and if they did abuse it, there's no way it would hurt me or you.

There, now it's out of the way, and we can mod down anybody else that says it. It's been explained so many times on /. why this is a bad idea that there's no excuse anymore to see it as anything short of troll.

Re:Well, Dick Cheney would know... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17632536)

Administration is the only reason he needs. Just like with government education, half of the revenue for government surveillance goes straight to administration. That's where old Dick and the rest of the Power Elite come in.

You're not in the administration business, are you?

So what? (4, Insightful)

arkham6 (24514) | more than 7 years ago | (#17632072)

Why is this any different than any other organization pulling my credit report? I check my reports every 3-4 months, and I see all sorts of people yanking my credit report. Mostly to send me junk mail that i throw away.

Its not like the government is going through my mail or listening to my phone calls...

OK, bad example.

Re:So what? (5, Informative)

Spritzer (950539) | more than 7 years ago | (#17632168)

The difference is the data that is available to them. AFAIK banks and credit card companies get basic info concerning your current debt load and payment history. As you would know, a full credit report reveals full account information including creditor info, account numbers, and relatively current debt load for each account. Over time this information can reveal increases in account activity and other very personal bits of information.

Re:So what? (1)

lawpoop (604919) | more than 7 years ago | (#17632262)

Because there really aren't any other organizations that have the power of a government, aside from other governments.

Re:So what? (1)

ArcherB (796902) | more than 7 years ago | (#17632342)

Because there really aren't any other organizations that have the power of a government,

Actually, they have more power than the government. When you apply for a car, they run your credit report. You apply for an apartment, they run a credit report. You apply for a job, they run a credit report. All of these companies that are running credit reports can use them against you. The Gov't can't.

Re:So what? (4, Insightful)

lawpoop (604919) | more than 7 years ago | (#17632606)

The worst a business can do you is refuse to do business with you, spread bad word about you, or even sue you.

A government can arrest you, imprison you, and even kill you. Governments all around the world are waging wars, rounding people up, and torturing them. What business can do that?

"Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master."
-- George Washington

Re:So what? (1, Informative)

bunions (970377) | more than 7 years ago | (#17632672)

> When you apply for a car, they run your credit report. You apply for an apartment, they run a credit report. You apply for a job, they run a credit report.

Yeah, but you give them permission to those people.

Still, of the players in the Cavalcade Of Civil Rights Abuses we've been priviledged to be audience to over the past few years, this one definitely plays a bit part.

Re:So what? (4, Insightful)

truthsearch (249536) | more than 7 years ago | (#17632304)

Because no one but the government will knock down your door and put a gun to your head after checking your credit report.

I hope you have a bank account who's number is just one digit off from a terrorists. One mistyped number and you'll change your opinion.

MOD parent UP please (3, Insightful)

megaditto (982598) | more than 7 years ago | (#17632572)

Also, is anybody reminded of those Nixon tapes where the guy laments that the "jews" at the IRS would not release his political opponents' tax returns to the President (IRS being)

As today, I would guess back then Nixon wanted the info to stop the terrorists and keep America safe...

Re:So what? (1)

Gibberx (631490) | more than 7 years ago | (#17632310)

Yeah, I was a little confused by this. The Slashdot headline says "Credit Reports", which are pretty much public record anyway. TFA headline says "Bank and Credit Records."

Re:So what? (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17632312)

Why is this any different than any other organization pulling my credit report?

Maybe because, contrary to recent efforts to make you think otherwise, the government isn't "like any other organization"?

Of course, those things the government can't do themselves, they just hire [blackwaterusa.com] contracted corporations [acxiom.com] to do for them.

Those require your authorization. (1)

khasim (1285) | more than 7 years ago | (#17632450)

There should not be ANY inquiries that you did not specifically authorize.

There are lots of circumstances where a company will ask for your authorization to pull your report. Renting, credit app, loan app, etc. But you should have authorized each of those.

If other people are pulling your report, that is a HUGE problem because your report has information about account numbers, balances and just about everything they'd need for "identity theft".

Not true. (1)

raehl (609729) | more than 7 years ago | (#17632542)

There are at least two kinds of requests for a credit report. There are requests initiated by you to get credit - like when you apply for a loan. These requests actually count in your credit score (make lots of requests for credit and your credit score goes down.) Then there are promotional/screening requests, which can be made by anyone. These don't include all of the information that would be there if you requested a report yourself, but anybody can ask for these and get them (after paying a fee to the agencies, of course.) It's these kinds of requests that are the basis for all of those "prescreened" credit offers you get in the mail.

Statements, not report. (5, Informative)

zCyl (14362) | more than 7 years ago | (#17632462)

Why is this any different than any other organization pulling my credit report?

Check the original article, not the title. The title says "credit report", but the original article says "banking and credit records", which includes a complete list of all money in and out, and who that money came from or goes to, which usually gives information about the types of things you are spending money on. This can reveal what type of magazines you buy, how much you drink, whether or not you're seeing a shrink, whether you're seeing medical specialists, what you pay for on the internet, etc... So yes, it is equivalent to going through your mail and listening to phone calls.

Re:So what? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17632474)

The companies pulling credit checks do not have much information on you.

Their are 2 types of credit check.

One that the company issues. (this has not effect on your credit) they basically say give me a list on N people who meet this criteria. And as such get a list of names and addresses to market to.

The second type is based on your approval. You give the bank/appartment complex etc premission to check your credit based on applying for a loan. Each time you do this it represents a ding on your credit. Doing this to often can harm your credit.

But in this check the company gets all your information loans banks income comments on your report etc etc.

The article dose not make it clear what report the government is using. The later is assumed.

Re:So what? (1)

Yold (473518) | more than 7 years ago | (#17632496)

I am more concerned about other private databases than my freakin credit report. The govt can get cell-phone records, copies of leases, and god knows what else from private databases without any legal writ. Although they are probably all inadmissable in court, does it still matter?

My point is, I don't know a damn thing about what other information agencies are gathering on me. Data is freakin valuable; especially your purchasing habits. The 21st century is going to be marked by slow erosion of privacy because it is more valuable to many organizations (especially financial, think credit scores) than your perceived right to privacy. It sucks.

we've got hundreds of bases... (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17632084)

we've got hundreds of bases inside the United States that are potential terrorist targets

And we don't want those bases blown up by terrorists with bad credit.

Re:we've got hundreds of bases... (4, Funny)

dr_dank (472072) | more than 7 years ago | (#17633088)

And we don't want those bases blown up by terrorists with bad credit.

Come on down for our jihad financing special. Bad credit? No credit? You work, you jihad!

Absolutely stunning .... (5, Insightful)

gstoddart (321705) | more than 7 years ago | (#17632088)

I'm absolutely gobsmacked that the current US government continues doing things which shouldn't even be remotely constitutional, and claiming that it's perfectly legal.

I mean, every time I hear a legal opinion coming out of the White House, I'm forced to conclude that it, or something like it, has been struck down by the courts in the past. I don't believe there is any mechanism whereby the DoD can be pulling credit checks on citizens on the preteext that with so many bases, they need to protect them. This is crazy.

I'm glad my passport expired. I won't be travelling to your country any more -- your gestapo scares me.

Re:Absolutely stunning .... (1)

ccmay (116316) | more than 7 years ago | (#17632188)

the current US government continues doing things which shouldn't even be remotely constitutional

This went on under Clinton too, and before that probably for as long as credit reports have been available. So did many other intelligence-gathering activities for which Bush is uniquely blamed by indignant but ignorant left-wingers.

-ccm

Re:Absolutely stunning .... (2, Informative)

m0rph3us0 (549631) | more than 7 years ago | (#17632372)

Clinton didn't pull your credit reports, he just used the army against citizens in violation of the posse comitaus act.

Re:Absolutely stunning .... (0)

timeOday (582209) | more than 7 years ago | (#17632808)

Clinton [blah blah blah...]
Translation: I got nothin'.

Re:Absolutely stunning .... (2, Insightful)

LordofWinterfell (90845) | more than 7 years ago | (#17632394)

The key difference is that the current administration does not feel the need to involve the courts, as did prior administrations (unreasonable search and seizure). Now, I'm not saying that they never did it, but never did it come out so publicly, and the administration (see Nixon - didn't he resign over illegal wiretapping?) says "Anything we feel like doing, its legal because I'm the president, and I'm protecting you".

Re:Absolutely stunning .... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17632812)

And, as Nixon was given full pardon, fruit basket et all, we can expect the same for W and Dick.

After all, they are protecting us by repealing our illusionary rights. We have no right to privacy.
We only have their word that they will respect it 'when they can'. I expect other so called rights
to evaporate in the coming years, after the next major attack a la 911. Free assembly? Free press?
These are already compromised. The internet NEVER WAS FREE, and it's going to get worse. Watch.

I'm unsurprised by the credit report pulling, because they have done this for decades. The difference?
Scale. And where there is no real oversight, there WILL be abuse.

So long as you're an upstanding citizen paying taxes and drinking the koolaid, what's to worry?
The government doesn't MAKE mistakes. Now shut up and drink your oil.

Re:Absolutely stunning .... (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17632414)

Absolutely.

During wartime, civil liberties always get pushed back. But now we've got an open-ended "war on terror" that's lasted for five years already, with no end in sight. And Bush & Co are pushing the envelope as far they can in the direction of rolling back 4th Amendment protections on unreasonable searches. They do it because they figure they can get away with it, and they probably can, unless the Congress or the Supreme Court suddenly acquires a spine.

Re:Absolutely stunning .... (5, Informative)

MeauxToo (644228) | more than 7 years ago | (#17632568)

I want to preface my comments by saying I am card carrying member of the ACLU, a Jeffersonian libritarian, and am no fan of this administration and its tactics. Furthermore, my comments are based on the fact that every example cited in the various press outlets has been a cleared individual (Aldrige Aimes and the Army chaplain at Gitmo). My comments do not to apply any cases that involve non-cleared citizens.

People involved in these investigations have clearances. As such, they have voluntarily signed away portions of their civil liberties related to wire tapping and regular background checks for counter intelligence purposes. If you have a clearance from US government, you have elected to restrict your civil liberties and rights to serve the country. Pulling your credit report is the least invasive action they can do without consulting the courts. At worst, they can revoke your clearance through an administrative procedure which has the net effect of a criminal conviction on your record.

As an aside, most US government clearances are issued through the DoD agency known as DISCO. Some agencies (e.g. Treasury, State, and Energy) have their clearance agencies, but most others use DISCO (e.g. Homeland Security, CIA, NSA). Since most clearances are administered by DoD, it then makes since that DoD would be the source of the most investigations into cleared people. All DISCO investigations are performed by the FBI.

While it may seem swarmy, everyone involved has elected to be placed under higher government scrutiny. Furthermore, as someone who has previously held a clearance, I can attest to the fact that you are advised at numerous points in the process that you are subject to a higher level of scrutiny. These are the types of procedures that are the first steps in identifying the Richard Hanseens and Aldridge Aimes in a world that legally operates under a stricter set of rules with potentially grave consequences for violation. Most importantly, no one forced these people into that world, they volunteered for it with full knowledge of the constraints.

Re:Absolutely stunning .... (3, Interesting)

gstoddart (321705) | more than 7 years ago | (#17632716)

I want to preface my comments by saying I am card carrying member of the ACLU, a Jeffersonian libritarian, and am no fan of this administration and its tactics. Furthermore, my comments are based on the fact that every example cited in the various press outlets has been a cleared individual (Aldrige Aimes and the Army chaplain at Gitmo). My comments do not to apply any cases that involve non-cleared citizens.

Really? As I read the ABC article, it said nothing about citizens who hold any clearance. It merely references people who show up in investigations.

I'm not saying you're wrong, because I don't know which is correct, but I see nothing to indicate that all of the people being examined like this are government personnel who have clearances. If it was purely ongoing verification of people with clearances, fine. But, if it spills over into "hmmm, he spoke to a brown man on the corner, let's pull up his records", it's a bad thing. And, one which I believe would be completely illegal

I'm just not 100% sure that the articles seem to indicate it's limited to ongoing verification of people who hold security clearance. I interpret it to be "whoever becomes a 'person of interest'".

Cheers

Re:Absolutely stunning .... (1)

wwahammy (765566) | more than 7 years ago | (#17632670)

My gestapo scares me too so that makes two of us.

Re:Absolutely stunning .... (1)

Zonekeeper (458060) | more than 7 years ago | (#17632680)

Thats perfectly fine. We WON'T miss you in the LEAST.

Re:Absolutely stunning .... (1)

pilgrim23 (716938) | more than 7 years ago | (#17632700)

If I recall correctly, one of the issues that lead up to the Revolutionary War was something called a "lettre de cache". In today's world it seems a innocent and quaint concept.

Big brother (1)

el_coyotexdk (1045108) | more than 7 years ago | (#17632112)

Another step towards the perfect big brother society.

fun with words (4, Insightful)

User 956 (568564) | more than 7 years ago | (#17632116)

'These statutory tools may provide key leads for counterintelligence and counterterrorism investigations,' Whitman said. 'Because these are requests for information rather than court orders, a DOD request under the NSL statutes cannot be compelled absent court involvement.

Is that how they get around the privacy angle? Just rename it to an "information request", and somehow that makes the problem go away. Just like torture is "creative interrogation".

Re:fun with words (1)

$RANDOMLUSER (804576) | more than 7 years ago | (#17632472)

'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone,' it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less.'
'The question is,' said Alice, 'whether you can make words mean so many different things.'
'The question is,' said Humpty Dumpty, 'which is to be master - that's all.'

Credit *Records* not *Reports* (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17632146)

The reason this is a problem is because the article summary has it wrong. TFA says "credit records" not "credit reports" which means they're not just looking to see, for instance, what your FICO score is, but looking at your actual purchases, etc.. *ugh*

"from the thanks-Patriot-Act dept" (4, Interesting)

the computer guy nex (916959) | more than 7 years ago | (#17632172)

The power of investigating certain financial records (such as credit reports) without a warrent was around before PATRIOT, most notably for suspected drug dealers.

It would be silly for the government not to exercise that same power against potential terrorists as long as the power was legal.

So don't thank PATRIOT, thank precedent set by the older drug-fighting legislation.

Re:"from the thanks-Patriot-Act dept" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17632340)

Not that the editor would ever bother to RTFA, but the link explains that this is pre-9/11.

Re:"from the thanks-Patriot-Act dept" (2, Interesting)

$RANDOMLUSER (804576) | more than 7 years ago | (#17632392)

The power of investigating certain financial records (such as credit reports) without a warrent was around before PATRIOT, most notably for suspected drug dealers.
It would be silly for the government not to exercise that same power against potential terrorists as long as the power was legal.

Notice a pattern here, citizen?

So don't thank PATRIOT, thank precedent set by the older drug-fighting legislation.

Oh, you mean the unconstitutional illegal-search-and-seizure RICO redefinition dreamed up by Bush #1 to fight the terrible horrible drug merchants?
Say, didn't we invade Panama, (to take out a foriegn leader we didn't like) too?

Again, notice a pattern here, citizen?

Re:"from the thanks-Patriot-Act dept" (1)

the computer guy nex (916959) | more than 7 years ago | (#17632682)

I was defending PATRIOT, not the power itself. I absolutely see your point.

Even though it is not a popular piece of legislation (especially here), I have read through the PATRIOT act and agree with a great majority of it. From a legal perspective it is applying powers that the Government already has to a new type of criminal. In the days following 9/11 it was the right thing to do.

Many of the more abusive powers written into the legislation have been numbed down or even removed.

Well, yeah. (1)

EinZweiDrei (955497) | more than 7 years ago | (#17632206)

This shouldn't be anything of a surprise. The law doesn't enter into it: every traceable activity that any citizen [or non-citizen] of this country engages in is surely monitored by the government where it is practical for it to do so.

Can an American PLEASE Clear Something Up? (1)

Asshat Canada (804093) | more than 7 years ago | (#17632216)

WHY is it that you continue to allow the government (for the people) to continually sodomize your rights? You know you are ALLOWED to do something about it without waiting for an election, right?

Re:Can an American PLEASE Clear Something Up? (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17632382)

Jack Bauer, smashing Dick Cheney's head into a wall repeatedly: "You ran a credit check on me? On ME? WFT do you think you're doing? (smash) Why did you need the information? (smash) Who do you think you are? (smash)"

Cheney snarling: "I'll do what I want to. I'm the real president! The Chimp is just a figurehead!"

Jack: (smash) (smash) (smash) "Asshole" (rips out Cheney's stents with his teeth)

Now that we have THAT settled...

Reminds me of famous Nixon quote (1)

192939495969798999 (58312) | more than 7 years ago | (#17632240)

"If the president does it, then it's not illegal"...

Re:Reminds me of famous Nixon quote (1)

businessnerd (1009815) | more than 7 years ago | (#17632540)

So does that mean drunk-driving and cocaine use are legal?

Re:Reminds me of famous Nixon quote (1)

192939495969798999 (58312) | more than 7 years ago | (#17632712)

In all fairness, he hasn't admittedly done those since he got to be president, so most likely they'd still be illegal. Also, I think Nixon implied that it's not illegal for the President to do something that would be illegal if anyone else did it... very disturbing.

Two Questions... (3, Insightful)

gillbates (106458) | more than 7 years ago | (#17632242)

I have two questions:

  1. Of what use is someone's credit report to the Feds, (assuming they are actually trying to enforce the law), and,
  2. Why does it matter when your credit report is readily available to any business? Wouldn't we expect law enforcement to have the same access, if not greater, than businesses already do?

When I think about it, everything in my credit report is the result of a public transaction. While I believe credit reports are being used inappropriately by employers, etc... I can't see how anyone believes this information to be private. In fact, most corporations who report to credit reporting agencies publicize this fact because they believe it deters fraud.

Now, whether or not the credit reporting agencies should be gathering this information, and how society depends on it, are a whole different matter.

Re:Two Questions... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17632634)

First, let's try reading the article before commenting. First, it's NOT just credit reports. It's "banking and credit records" which presumably includes all of your credit card purchases and financial transactions - that's far more invasive than simple credit reports.

And that information is hardly public.

"Of what use is someone's credit report to the Feds?"
Given that it's NOT just credit reports, it should be self-evident why this type of information could be immensely valuable to the Feds. Purchasing patterns (or even just shopping a certain stores at certain times) or financial transactions provides an incredible window into a person's life.

"Why does it matter when your credit report is readily available to any business?"

It's quite disturbing that this question keeps coming up. Outside of the fact that the information is NOT public, I think the larger philosophical debate is should the government actively track citizens engaged in completely legal activities without some type of oversight. This question arises because of the government's past history of 'spying' on citizens and creating watchlists of folks simply because they attended civil right rallies (or other types of events).

Re:Two Questions... (1)

gillbates (106458) | more than 7 years ago | (#17632890)

I think the larger philosophical debate is should the government actively track citizens engaged in completely legal activities without some type of oversight.

I agree about the oversight. And no, I don't think they should be able to view individual transactions. As an engineer, I have, as part of my profession, many of the things found in Ted Kaczinski's cabin. At least I have a believable alibi for my possessions. But what about the tinkerer buying batteries in bulk, or timing circuits, or wiring? Yes, it could be very problematic.

But, why do we allow private businesses to collect this data in the first place? And, assuming they do the collection, who are we to tell someone how to treat their data? Are we going to add yet more laws which make collections of bits illegal?

I think the solution is a healthy dose of paranoia. I assume that anything I do in public, or over the internet, is public knowledge. If I don't want it seen, I encrypt it; if I don't others knowing about it, I pay in cash. My other option is to go back to the inconveniences of living a cash only life.

Re:Two Questions... (1)

charlieo88 (658362) | more than 7 years ago | (#17632668)

Why does it matter when your credit report is readily available to any business?

Theoretically, it's not. No business is supposed to pull your credit report without your permission and a valid reason, as per the FCRA. And no, the information on your credit report is the result of private transactions between you and and your creditors.

Re:Two Questions... (1)

electrosoccertux (874415) | more than 7 years ago | (#17632740)

Well you're right, there was nothing unpublic about using cash, everyone in the supermarket could see what you were buying. Watching somebody's purchases took a great deal of effort, planning, and money. The benefit to self would have to have been immense ("we're sure this guy is a terrorist") and the actions would have to produce result for them to not raise suspicion.

Now you can track everybody's purchases very quickly and cheaply, and the actions performed in the searching will not bring attention to themselves. Thus it will be very easy for someone who could stand to benefit from your information to abuse the system.

Most likely not much will come of it now. Fortunately for us, 1984 is a bit unrealistic. To control something that grand would take far too much competence for the government to pull it off, IMO. It'll take far too many people coordinating to notice odd purchasing behavior, and far too few people to abuse the system. Eventually somebody would slip up, but not before doing the damage, and herein resides our fear. It will be abused, just like most other government powers are, and it will bring its own downfall, just like other governments that were in absolute control were.

Re:Two Questions... (2, Insightful)

PPH (736903) | more than 7 years ago | (#17632908)

When I think about it, everything in my credit report is the result of a public transaction.

What gives you that idea? Each transaction made between myself and some business or financial institution is a private transaction unless we both agree otherwise. The nature of the data provided by credit card companies to data collection agencies is spelled out in my card agreement and it is limited to data useful in determining my creditworthiness. There is no place in that agreement that allows them to release details of individual transactions to any third party. This includes law enforcement not in possession of a warrant.

On a side note: Credit reports can reveal people living beyond their means and general patterns indicating income from suspect activities. Since credit reports do not contain details of individual transactions, they would be useless for detecting a single large purchase of ammonium nitrate or tuition at the local flight school. Its not likely that the average suicide bomber is going to blow money on Ferraris, yachts, high end hookers in Las Vegas, etc. in a pattern likely to call attention to himself. So, either the gov't is getting something more than just credit reports or they aren't only fishing for terrorists.

Re:Two Questions... (1)

theMAGE (51991) | more than 7 years ago | (#17633112)

Maybe for you the credit report shows only public transactions but for the rest of us (whose banks do not leave laptops with data scattered through the city) the loans and deposits are private transactions, between two parties. Sure, you can find out where I go during the day if you follow me, but any court would issue a restraining order against such a nosy stalker. But you can't follow me in my banks or attorney's office, nor medical facilities.

Accuracy (5, Insightful)

truthsearch (249536) | more than 7 years ago | (#17632250)

In my experience credit reports are horribly inaccurate because there appears to be no validation at all. My mortgage application was put on hold when my credit report revealed an unpaid Macy's credit card from 1968. I wasn't even born yet. So at the top of the page is my correct birthday with obviously incorrect information below it. The credit agency refused to fix the data. I had to call Macy's and find someone who would send a letter to the credit agency to say I didn't open an account before I was born.

I also know someone who has the exact same name as someone else with just a one digit difference in SSNs. Bad info about this other stranger shows up on his credit report every few years. The credit agencies refuse to fix the data problems themselves.

So the last thing I want is the federal government flagging me as a potential terrorist because of some type-o that no one is willing to fix. Not only should these queries require court oversight, but they should be made directly to the institutions where the accounts are held so they're very specific and more likely accurate.

Re:Accuracy (1)

UbuntuDupe (970646) | more than 7 years ago | (#17632506)

I hear you 100%. Nothing pisses me off more than the credit reporting system. They have a labyrinthine process to fix ANYTHING about it, yet somehow people manage to game it by having multiple fraudulent entries. Also, SOMEHOW, paying your rent, utilities, cable, and insurance on time says absolutely nothing about your creditworthiness so they ignore it (!). Meaning if you don't want to get in debt, the only way to have ANY credit at all is to get a credit card and pay the balance each month.

And let me tell you, "no credit" is MUCH MUCH WORSE than "bad credit". I recently tried to apply for a credit card. No debt at 24. I was turned down for it, on the basis that I had no credit. What the ****? For a CREDIT CARD? After two years of paying bills? FINALLY I was able to persuade them to deign to give me a limit equal to one paycheck.

Oh, and a home loan? Nevermind that it would be only 1/6 of my monthly gross and my only debt, banks will at best give me a 9.75% 3-year adjustable! (Luckily the credit union was reasonable.)

I swear, credit reporting is such an anachronism.

Re:Accuracy (1)

evil_Tak (964978) | more than 7 years ago | (#17632734)

The parent's comment cannot be modded up enough.

Re:Accuracy (1)

MythMoth (73648) | more than 7 years ago | (#17633048)

That doesn't seem totally unreasonable from their POV because they don't know that your birthday is correct in their file.

This is why I hit the roof (1)

plopez (54068) | more than 7 years ago | (#17633114)

When ever I hear about initiatives to build mega-databases by pasting various public and private databases together.

They are simply not accurrate. Example 1, about 10 years ago I moved and applied for a new drivers license. A person with the same name popped up with a warrant. Good thing he was 5ft 6in tall at 140 lbs and I am 6ft 1inch tall and 210 lbs. Otherwise I might have spent a night in jail.

Example 2, the social security office has some inaccurrate information on me. I recently started applying for financial aid for grad school and so now I have to sort it out before I can apply.

Lord knows what is in my credit reports, I haven't seen any in years. Note the plural in reports. The best way to lose consistency is to have multiple versions of the same info.

This is also why I hit the roof when so called IT professionals so not understand that the most import aspect of a database is data integrity. It is not ease of development or speed or XML (don't get me started on that topic) support or whatever. The main function of a DB is to insure accurrate data.

I better stop before I start ranting and raving again.

US Consitution (2, Insightful)

ellem (147712) | more than 7 years ago | (#17632258)

Has nothing to say abut Credit Reports. Anyone with 100USD can get your credit report pulled. Take a look.

Agreed. (1)

porkchop_d_clown (39923) | more than 7 years ago | (#17632328)

If Countrywide Mortgages can pull my report when ever they feel like it, why does the government need a subpoena?

Or, look at it this way: If the government needs a subpoena to look at my credit report than why the heck is everyone else allowed to look at it whenever they want?

Re:Agreed. (2, Insightful)

aztec rain god (827341) | more than 7 years ago | (#17632544)

Countrywide Mortgages, to my knowledge, doesn't do extraordinary renditions.

Re:US Consitution - lets get Bushes (3, Insightful)

gabrieltss (64078) | more than 7 years ago | (#17632538)

Well if all it takes $100USD I say we all chip in and get Bush and Cheney's Credit reports pulled and see if we get stopped or not. If they can pull ours then we have EVERY right to pull theirs!

Relax! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17632276)

Relax, it's not like they're constantly tracking you [seclists.org] , reading your e-mail [seclists.org] , at least not without probably violating the law, and the government would NEVER violate the law, right? So relax!

If you have nothting to fear ... (1)

140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) | more than 7 years ago | (#17632292)

... if you have nothing to hide. Right?

Sanity checks (1)

mallgood (964345) | more than 7 years ago | (#17632298)

Let's assume that by some random craziness that they are telling the truth and it is legal to do this..
Just because it's legal doesn't make it right.
As time goes on I think we are finding both sides of both lines - the legality line and the morality (for lack of a better term) line. There are things that fall on both sides of both lines. Sometimes just because it's illegal doesn't make it immoral and just because it is legal it doesn't make it moral.
The whole thing is that it tells you that the government doesn't always run things through their own personal sanity checks..

Re:Sanity checks (4, Insightful)

gknoy (899301) | more than 7 years ago | (#17632906)

Sometimes just because it's illegal doesn't make it immoral and just because it is legal it doesn't make it moral.

The whole thing is that it tells you that the government doesn't always run things through their own personal sanity checks.


Yes, they do sanity check things. The trouble is, an organization like a government (or a corporation, even) does not operate with the same moral concepts as individual humans. (Should they? Many think so - but the point is that they don't.) A government's view of the country is that in order to do their job better, they need more control. Nearly any power-vested entity has a similar outlook. (That sounds like a rant, I don't mean it to.)

Our moral outlook is that our privacy is important to us. A government's fear-based outlook is that our "private" lives could potentially hide threats to their wellbeing, or to "society" in general. A corporation's perspective is that the most important thing to do is Whatever Makes More Money for Shareholders. This is why "Don't get caught" seems to be more of a governing rule for many non-individuals.

To them, we are a statistic -- 1 of 298 million. If 1% of your constituents (or customers) gets royally screwed by the system, who cares? Mistakes, accidents, etc harm more than that, and besides -- how many of that group actually deserved such screwing?

As individuals, the potential screw-ees, we obviously care a lot more. We see the marginalization of rights, "security theater", and inconveniences which make our individual lives harder, with little noticeable increase in safety, satisfaction, or other intangibles which we value. We see how it impacts US.

For example: Whenever I walk into many stores (e.g., Best Buy, Fry's, Costco), there are security people (or even employees) monitoring the exits, assuming that I could be the next shoplifter. So, they want me to show receipts, walk through a detector, etc. Great - I am not having to prove that I'm not a thief, every time I leave a store. From their perspective, it reduces shoplifting by X%, and thereby reducing their losses and increasing profits -- it's hard to see the business sense in NOT doing it (especially when all your competitors are too).

Similarly, when we go to the airport, we're herded as cattle, and need to produce ID and other documentation at many stages, all because it's viewed as "making travel more secure". Honestly, I imagine it might ... but most of us feel that it won't stop any determined attacker, and only makes the rest of us feel degraded. I'm reminded of the opening scenes of Half Life 2. (Hmm ... I need to actually play that game sometime, instead of just the demo ... ;)) The government sees this as providing an increase in security for its citizens (or, more cynically, satisfying the constituents' cries to "protect" them from the bogeyman), and so forth.

So yes -- rest assured that many people have "sanity-checked" the practices and systems by which the government operates. They just are operating with different goals and values, so their sanity checks will return different values than yours or mine.

Let's check the Documentation.... (2, Insightful)

mikelieman (35628) | more than 7 years ago | (#17632300)

1) Federal Constitution. Don't see it as an enumerated, delegated power.
2) Amendments to Federal Constitution. Don't see it as an enumerated, delegated power.

So, WHY is the Federal Government wasting OUR VALUABLE TAX DOLLARS on things not explicitly delegated to them?

Um... (2, Insightful)

PCM2 (4486) | more than 7 years ago | (#17632526)

- Paving the potholes in the highways. Don't see that as an enumerated, delegated power in the text of the Constitution or its amendments.

- Delivering the mail. Don't see that as an enumerated, delegated power in the text of the Constitution or its amendments.

- Building prisons. Don't see that as an enumerated, delegated power in the text of the Constitution or its amendments.

- Establishing and operating the U.S. Coast Guard. Don't see that as an enumerated, delegated power in the text of the Constitution or its amendments. ... and I can think of countless other examples. You're right! This government is totally out of control!

Re:Um... (1)

wwahammy (765566) | more than 7 years ago | (#17632762)

To be fair, the government doesn't deliver the mail anymore. Sure its a government created monopoly but its not a government agency.

Nothing New with NSLs (2, Informative)

flogger (524072) | more than 7 years ago | (#17632332)

National Security letters (NSLs) have been around a while and the Bush administration has used them extensively. a little over a year ago the Washington Post had a huge story about the extensive use of these with little valid result. [washingtonpost.com] The kicker about the NSLs is that there is always a provision to remain secritive that you are handing over the information. If the FBI give my boss an NSL wanting records of all of of my outgoing phone calls, he must give the records and INFORM NO ONE that this happened. If me boss refuses to had over the records or "squeals", he goes to jail.

These are not NSLs, the company is duped. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17632832)

These letters are not NSLs, they purport to be NSLs, but they're non mandatory. The letter quotes a lot of legal mumbo jumbo related to the National Security Letters, but never actually says that it is an NSL.

The company that receives them has no way of knowing these are not legal instruments, but a phishing letter from the FBI, so they don't know they can refuse. With NSLs the common perception is that they can't seek legal advice as notifying anyone about the NSL is a federal crime. So they don't get legal advice on it, and think they are forced to comply.

This is what makes it so incredible. There is no legal manner under which that information can be claimed, other than the FBI asking for voluntary compliance, only in this case the company is being duped.

Hmph. (2, Interesting)

zCyl (14362) | more than 7 years ago | (#17632350)

It sounds to me like some banks and credit companies need to be rebuked for this. Credit and bank statements can contain substantially private information about an individual, as personal as medical records or intimate phone conversations.

In the only example given in the article of the successful use of this technique, Aldrich Ames, he was under careful surveillance by the FBI, and well known to be living beyond his stated income. There should have been no difficulty obtaining a search warrant as described in that constitution thing that law enforcement officials seem to find so inconvenient. And the banks and credit companies should EXPECT and DEMAND that law enforcement officials provide this search warrant as standard process, as much as most individuals would expect and demand this before letting police read ones private love letters.

The Bill of Rights loses its power if all the major corporations just voluntarily ignore it on behalf of their customers.

Just another way to waste your money (0, Flamebait)

MikeRT (947531) | more than 7 years ago | (#17632418)

Why is it that we have groups like CAIR and many others with known links to groups like Hamas and Hezbollah operating freely? Because few of the "anti-terrorists" really care about security. We have a situation with funding Islamic development and education in America with Saudi Wahabi oil money that is akin to allowing the KGB to openly recruit domestic operatives during the height of the Cold War--but you never hear a damn thing from democrats or republicans at high enough levels to do anything. It's all because... surprise, surprise... these people are invariably too stupid to understand the issue or too corrupt to care.

What blows my mind is that true subversives are allowed to operate freely. Groups like CAIR who have openly stated that their goal is to end constitutional government and replace it with Sharia are even courted. They are FUCKING SUBVERSIVES, not legitimate dissidents. Their goal is to subvert American government and end it as it currently exists. *Cue handwringing about McCarthyism, despite the fact that one of my relatives was actually on the blacklist...*

Stupid terrorists? (1)

PPH (736903) | more than 7 years ago | (#17632420)

Its an effective tool ... against stupid terrorists.


I recall a few years back that there was a news story about a memo going around the CIA. It was a reminder for all undercover agents to avoid using their credit cards when making purchases at the CIA gift shop.


The insecurity of credit records has been public knowledge for so long that I'm wondering if the gov't doesn't have some ulterior motive in bringing it to the public's attention. Perhaps even nothing to do with terrorism.

Not a rights violation or unconstitutional (3, Insightful)

MBraynard (653724) | more than 7 years ago | (#17632438)

You do not own your credit report - Equifax, etc. own it. Their business model is BUILT around selling it to almost anyone.

You don't own your account information with your bank unless your bank explicitly tells you they don't share it with anyone - but they won't, because they regularly share this info with law enforcement.

If I were, for some wierd reason, sit across the street from you and record each day when you leave and when you return, I could give the info to anyone and the government would not need a warrent to use it in court. Observing someone's behavior in either commercial or otherwise public transactions is legitemate.

Do you think the IRS needs a warrent to go after you for a fraudulent tax form - just to see the tax form?

Let 'm have at it. (1)

jbarr (2233) | more than 7 years ago | (#17632484)

I don't have a thing to hide, and I'm sick and tired of terrorists getting away with things. It's high time that the citizenry of the U.S. enable the government to do its job.

Thanks guys! (2, Funny)

jbarr (2233) | more than 7 years ago | (#17632522)

It really sucks when the people at work post something on your account while you're not looking! There goes my karma.

Re:Thanks guys! (1)

EmagGeek (574360) | more than 7 years ago | (#17632596)

When I was in college, they called it the "Baggy Pants" treatment... If someone left their account logged in, someone would post something to the newsgroup along the lines of "I have baggy pants!" or something even more creative like "My pants are ooooh sooo baggy..." and they get more creative and outlandish from there...

With the Democrats in power.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17632520)

.. checking someone's personal information to identify whether they are going to place a bomb on a plane will require five layers of court decisions for every six-week period, while checking someone's personal information to identify whether they earn money they do not pay tax off will be ongoing with a dedicated ten-thousand-man department.

So really... (4, Funny)

eriklou (1027240) | more than 7 years ago | (#17632564)

Sweet! All I have to do is forge a letter from the FBI and I can get my credit report for free, if only that was legal...

Needs to go Further (5, Insightful)

Waffle Iron (339739) | more than 7 years ago | (#17632574)

The Defense Department gets involved because we've got hundreds of bases inside the United States that are potential terrorist targets.

Let's apply the same logic to other threats to our armed forces. For example: speeding on our nations highways. There are almost 2 million military personell in this country, and they're exposed to risks on our highways just like the rest of us. Statistically, on average each of us has about a 1 in 10,000 risk of being killed each year in an auto accident. That would mean that just since 9/11, probably over 1000 of our troops have been killed in accidents, not to mention thousands more serious casualties. This is a bigger loss to our military than almost any conceivable terrorist threat to our military bases would be, and about 1/3 as much as we've lost in Iraq.

Now, we can presume that most accidents involve excessive speeds. Clearly, to mitigate this huge drain on the nation's defenses, we must fight speeding. I say that it's high time that we took advantage of the assets we have to cut down on this threat. We should task the Air Force to use their fleet of unmanned drones to patroll the skies over our highways. With the advanced imaging technology, they should be able to track and evaluate nearly every vehicle on our major freeways. Once people start getting tickets with a NORAD return address nearly every time they violate the law, they're going to start thinking twice about putting our troops at risk on our roadways. It would be a huge tragedy if we as a nation are unwilling or unable to use every tool at our disposal to protect our troops.

Re:Needs to go Further (1)

emor8t (1033068) | more than 7 years ago | (#17632858)

The key flaw in your argument is that accidents are ACCIDENT'S. Terrorist attacks are premeditated acts which are inherently more predictable considering that, while I may accidentally hit you on the way home, as the many thousands of other drivers that are on the road that are capable of killing me or you. You cannot possibly fathom protecting every person on the road. While the government goes to what some may say extreme lengths to protect our soldiers from terrorist, it is an immensely more achievable than protecting them from every person on the road.

Moreover, Terrorists are actively trying to kill soldiers. Now, there are a lot of bad drivers out there, but I'm going to say there is a far smaller percentage that are actively trying to kill you than the percentage of terrorists trying to kill soldiers. Say I don't know 10% of drivers out there want to kill you versus the 100% of terrorists trying to kill you.

Further more, Saying we lost 1000 soldiers to "accidents" is more of a loss to our nations is clearly not examining the entire aspect of the situation. Considering that if you attack any major military installation in the United States you could take a large number of lives plus a large amount of data and resources. Far more than any "accident" or accidents.

Besides, what is the difference if the FBI or CIA sees this information versus the IRS? Is the FBI going to magically take all your money because you failed to file for income taxes, and the IRS would not?

Re:Needs to go Further (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17633070)

Thats what the satellite based lasers are for. You failed to signal before changing lanes, ZAP!

Republican reelection strategy... (1)

MasterPoof (876056) | more than 7 years ago | (#17632654)

1. Fake bad democratic credit records. 2. Pull democrat credit histories using new powers. 3. Get them arrested for false records. 4. PROFIT !

Cheney's Law (5, Informative)

Doc Ruby (173196) | more than 7 years ago | (#17632660)

"Cheney's Law" is "I am the Law".

I just watched Sen Feinstein (D-CA) telling the (probably empty, except the C-SPAN camera) Senate floor about how Chief Inqusitor^W^WAttorney General Gonzales has been firing US Attorneys in various districts, without any just cause (except "just 'cause I say so"), replacing them with "interim" Attorneys to last the rest of Bush's administration, avoiding the required Senate confirmation, to determine the outcomes of specific cases in their calendars. Like the "recess appointments" of Bush admin hacks like UN bomber^WAmbassador John Bolton and others. A "loophole" designed into the Patriot Act II (With a Vengance) voted in by the Republican Congress in 2006, which threw away the old "120 days maximum" for "interim" Attorney appointments, in favor of... as long as the Attorney General pleases, with whoever he pleases, whenever he pleases. Pleases himself, that is, not people interested in justice or Constitutional rule.

And this morning I read how Republicans want courts martial to try civilians [chron.com] . I expect they'll lock up trying war profiteers like Halliburton, find them "not guilty/liable", and use our Constitution's "no double jeopardy" rules to exclude real courts from trying them and exposing the evidence to shareholders and citizens. Then I won't be surprised when Bush/Cheney/Gonzales find excuses to apply military courts all over the globe. From US occupations like Afghanistan and Iraq, to battlegrounds in other countries like probably Iran and Syria, to anarchies where they're bombing like Somalia. Then widening to other Terror War territories, wherever they can find them. All in defiance of international laws, US treaties, and our Constitution itself, which is universal, yielding only in the face of sovereign foreign jurisdiction.

After all, Cheney/Gonzales/Bush don't even have any use for the required FISA [wikipedia.org] court that bends over backwards to grant warrants, even after the fact, when spying on Americans. Why shouldn't this gang of "Conservatives" use the laws they've passed the past 6 years with their wholly-owned Congressional subsidiary to do whatever they want, regardless of how tyrannical?

After all, there's no law against Cheney lying to us on TV talk shows - as far as Cheney cares, anyway.

The real problem (1)

fastgriz (1052034) | more than 7 years ago | (#17632662)

The problem isn't the feds pulling your credit report, the real problem is that the credit bureaus are allowed to compile a file on you without your consent. It even more wrong that they are allowed to sell *your* information to others without paying you or even checking the accuracy of the information/allegations in the file.

On second thought, I guess the credit bureaus aren't the bad guys here, the bad guys are the banks, cc companies etc who sell your info in the first place.

Amazing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17632684)

And the bums in the White House can't lift a finger to stop illegal immigration.

Sure, why not? They OUGHT to be able to... (1)

WheelDweller (108946) | more than 7 years ago | (#17632698)

I'm constantly getting junk mail from people who don't know me, I don't do business with them, and they have no reason to know my credit level- but they do. In periods of time where I can't pay, the flow trickles. When I can pay, the flow fills trashcans. They know.

Now, if my credit score is common knowledge, and the government CAN'T get to it, there's something wrong.

The more direct question about why they'd care about my credit score- I can't imagine what it would help them with...all the guns I run are in cash, the white slavery I do is in bearer bonds, and the drug money is in pesos. :)

Wait! Can you GET credit to buy cocaine? ;>

[No, this is all absurdity to illuminate the point...]

Two things (1)

BubbaFett (47115) | more than 7 years ago | (#17632720)

For folks saying "big deal":

  1. Wrong agency. This isn't the FBI here, or another domestic law enforcement agency, it's the armed forces. Protecting bases is a BS excuse.
  2. No warrants. The only reason you don't ask for a warrant is when the judge would likely say "no".

This is the problem. This what makes it different from legal inquiries of your credit record by the government.

What are they really looking for? (1)

RatBastard (949) | more than 7 years ago | (#17632750)

What I want to know is what are they really looking for? Does anyine think that terrorists, and by that I mean the ones smart enough to plan and carry out an attack of substance, are going to buy that 1,000 tons of fertalizer on their credit cards? A truck rental, sure, they have no choice, but explosives, ammunition and whatnot? No. Terrorsim, like the drug trade, is a cash and cary environment.

So, if terrorists are not their real target, who is? What are they looking for? What do they really want to know? How much data mining are they going to employ and to what purpose? These are the questions that make me uneasy.

Sure, some of you argue, this isan't all that big of a deal. Your records aren't really private. How about stepping back and looking at the big picture. Look at all of the other "non-private" records they want access to sans warrant: telephone records, email exchanges, web logs, library records, bookstore purchases, etc... This is just another in a long line of data mining projects.

At the risk of Godwinning my post, my government is starting to remind me of foul, loathesome, corrupt Evil Empire we spend decades toppling in the Cold War. The though of teh KGB being reborn in my country sickens me.

The Real Privacy Violation (5, Insightful)

Spritzer (950539) | more than 7 years ago | (#17632752)

What every one of us seems to be missing is the bigger question. Why are financial institutions allowed to provide your private financial records to another private organization? If I were to ask my bank for another customer's financial records they'd laugh. Why? Because it is ILLEGAL to provide that information to me. Why do we allow these institutions to give our private data to the credit bureaus in the first place. Find the administration responsible for allowing that to happen and you'll find the root of this problem

Does it affect my credit score? (2, Insightful)

Sleeping Kirby (919817) | more than 7 years ago | (#17632780)

So if someone runs a credit check on you, your credit score gets lowered. When the government does it, does my credit score gets lowered to?

Re:Does it affect my credit score? (2, Informative)

serial_crusher (591271) | more than 7 years ago | (#17632838)

When I applied for a job with the NSA, I pulled my credit report a few days later and there was some vague item on there that basically said "Federal Investigation". I hope it didn't get mistaken for a criminal investigation.

Re:Does it affect my credit score? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17633068)

Of course. You're obviously a terrorist (Why else would the government be interested?). Terrorists are major credit risks.

What year is it? (1)

absurdparadox (1052050) | more than 7 years ago | (#17632882)

Time to party like its 1984!!

I think the REAL issue here is that we have a credit system at all. Some nebulous number that your worth as a human being is judged on. Combined with the Patriot Act, Federal Reserve, and the illegal income tax, the future looks bleak in my eyes. Unfortunately most people don't seem to see a problem as we sign our life away.

This is doubleplusungood.

The surprising thing... (1)

gorehog (534288) | more than 7 years ago | (#17632896)

is that this is news.

Almost anyone can check on anyone's credit report. All you have to do is contact one of the three credit reporting companies and ask. They'll name a price.

I cant imagine anyone being surprised that government agencies use commercially available data. It's like being surprised that the D.A. has a Lexis-Nexis subscription, or reads Groklaw (ok, that might be surprising), or reads the newspaper. Once we were aware that credit checks were being factored into job interviews it should have become common knowledge that this is information that is de facto in the oublic domain for anyone to use.

Privacy (2, Insightful)

certel (849946) | more than 7 years ago | (#17632946)

And so it continues. It's just sad that each day, more and more of this information is published. We'll have no rights/freedom shortly.

Freedom has a price! (1)

SQLz (564901) | more than 7 years ago | (#17633046)

Freedom has a price....your freedom.
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