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FBI May Have Datamined Grocery Stores With Help From Credit Companies

Zonk posted more than 6 years ago | from the so-you-like-hummus-do-you-mr.-smartguy dept.

Privacy 442

An anonymous reader writes "Recent media reports indicate that in 2005-06, the FBI went trawling through grocery store records in order to track down Iranian terror cells. They hoped to locate 'Middle-Eastern terrorists' through the purchase of specific food items. Many of these items, though, are not sold through big-box supermarket chains, and the majority of mom and pop ethnic markets do not have the detailed computer purchase histories that Safeway or Whole Foods have. What the FBI seems to have done is instead put together a list of everyone who shopped at a Middle Eastern food market. All signs point to the credit card companies providing this data, and not the individual stores. If so, this could be the tip of a (potentially illegal) data-mining iceberg."

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In Other News... (4, Funny)

Mr_Perl (142164) | more than 6 years ago | (#21294447)

Falafil Inc. sues the FBI for defamation of character and loss of business.

Re:In Other News... (5, Funny)

show me altoids (1183399) | more than 6 years ago | (#21294907)

Falafil Inc. sues the FBI for defamation of character and loss of business.

I really falafel about this.

Re:In Other News... (0, Offtopic)

clang_jangle (975789) | more than 6 years ago | (#21295103)

Offtopc? Harsh crowd. I thought it was pretty funny...

Re:In Other News... (2, Funny)

rvw (755107) | more than 6 years ago | (#21295055)

Falafil Inc. sues the FBI for defamation of character and loss of business.
Hey man have you ever see a falafel explode? I sure don't want to be around! And if they're still frozen, you will never know what hits you if a mad falafel-seller comes after you. Man this is really dangerous!

Datamined Grocery Stores (3, Funny)

smitty_one_each (243267) | more than 6 years ago | (#21294453)

data-mining iceberg lettuce hovercraft eel overflow

Because (1)

InvisblePinkUnicorn (1126837) | more than 6 years ago | (#21294455)

Because people who grew up having to make their own food from scratch are going to suddenly stop doing that and start buying the Kraft brand.

Re:Because (2, Insightful)

trolltalk.com (1108067) | more than 6 years ago | (#21294845)

"Because people who grew up having to make their own food from scratch are going to suddenly stop doing that and start buying the Kraft brand."

And how many people who are just trying to eat healthier and get a bit of variety in their diet are they going to snag?

Or who go there because its convenient to rent a movie (a lot of these places rent movies, etc).

Re:Because (4, Insightful)

megaditto (982598) | more than 6 years ago | (#21295131)

You don't understand how datamining works. Records of you shopping for Islamic food by and in itself is irrelevant. Nobody is going to throw you in jail because you love a falaffel now and then
However, once FBI computers have access to hundreds of unrelated databases, they can do things like

RETURN PERSON ID where gender is a male AND between 17-35 AND shops at Islamic stores AND has expired visa AND received large cash transfers from an Islamic country AND bought a one-way ticket on an airplane AND is on the same flight as others of that class.

Re:Because (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21294967)

You've never been a bachelor, have you?

Alienation (5, Insightful)

explosivejared (1186049) | more than 6 years ago | (#21294475)

Why not just say anyone of middle-eastern descent is automatically a threat? That's basically what it's come down to. How in the world is food purchasing data related to terror suspects. Alienation only leads to more strife. This doesn't do anything but make relations worse.

Re:Alienation (4, Funny)

ByOhTek (1181381) | more than 6 years ago | (#21294529)

because, non-middle easterners might like the food.

And thus, even though not ME, they must be terrorists too!

*sigh* I didn't realize I was a terrorist :-( It's just that the food is so yummy.

Re:Alienation (1)

toleraen (831634) | more than 6 years ago | (#21294645)

It's just that the food is so yummy.
I'm sure there's a bathroom + developing WMDs joke in there somewhere

Re:Alienation (5, Funny)

djasbestos (1035410) | more than 6 years ago | (#21294655)

Seriously. Shawarma with saffron rice FTW.

I guess I am a bad American for liking terrorist food...hummus...Hamas...same thing, right?

Re:Alienation (1)

srollyson (1184197) | more than 6 years ago | (#21294565)

Why not just say anyone of middle-eastern descent is automatically a threat?

I think that's what they are saying. Or, at least, the articles are saying that they profiled people who bought foods that Iranians eat. From the CNET article:

The program, however, was short lived and was quickly "torpedoed by the head of the FBI's criminal investigations division, Michael A. Mason, who argued that putting somebody on a terrorist list for what they ate was ridiculous -- and possibly illegal."
Don't worry, though. Our hero, Mr. Mason, saved the day.

Re:Alienation (1)

eln (21727) | more than 6 years ago | (#21294695)

So now not only are you a terrorist if you're Arab (or are easily confused with Arabs by Americans, like the Persian Iranians), but you're also a terrorist if you attempt to cook Middle Eastern food.

What's next, targetting people who have Persian rugs in their houses? What about Persian cats? Should I avoid chewing gum, since it's made with gum arabic? Will I be subject to arrest for having a copy of Disney's Aladdin in my home?

Re:Alienation (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21294773)

Yes, yes, yes and yes. Welcome to the new world order.

Re:Alienation (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21294981)

Will I be subject to arrest for having a copy of Disney's Aladdin in my home?
No, but you will be subject to arrest if you have the sequels. The bad taste police will be by shortly to confiscate those DVDs as well as the parachute pants you still have in your closet. Thank you, and good day.

Re:Alienation (4, Funny)

MBCook (132727) | more than 6 years ago | (#21294663)

Ketchup. They're seeing who isn't buying enough.

Ketchup has natural mellowing agents that help to keep you satisfied with our government and able to accept what happens to you.

-- A message from the Ketchup Advisory Board

(This is well documented. See here [publicradio.org] and here [publicradio.org] , for example.)

Re:Alienation (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21294837)

It's not the ketchup, it's the high fructose corn syrup. It's in everything, including ketchup.

I buy my ketchup in Canada. Up there it's made with real sugar.

Of course these days it costs a lot more, given that 1 US$ is rapidly approaching the value of 1 ZIM$

Thank Shrub and Lord Cheney for that.

Reality (1)

hlomas (1010351) | more than 6 years ago | (#21294727)

Maybe because the OUTSIDE threat in the world right now is Islamic fundamentalism which historically manifests itself in individuals of middle eastern descent?

Re:Reality (4, Insightful)

jeffasselin (566598) | more than 6 years ago | (#21294821)

How is it more dangerous than the inside threat of Christian Fundamentalists that threaten the very nature of the US?

Re:Alienation (1)

inKubus (199753) | more than 6 years ago | (#21294811)

Well, if you're not eating good Christian foods of good Texas beef and pork and Idaho potatoes, then you obviously support terrorism. Eating kebabs and lebni shows that you support the murder of 20,000 2,000 Jewish-American businessmen at ground zero on Nine-Eleven, Oh-One. And when you ingest the anti-Christ in the form of saffron-infused Basmati rice, you stand a much higher chance of being recruited by organizations wishing to attack Jesus America. Therefore, to be safe, we will be keeping detailed files on you until we decide that Islam is no longer a threat to Jesus.

Seriously, isn't this exactly like McCarthyism and the Commie witch-hunts of the 50's? And there's a lot of the same players, they are just higher up now. This is bullshit. Iranians are people too, so are Iraqis. Just because they don't believe in Jesus, shit ASIANS don't believe in Jesus yet we seem to love them. I'd say Asians are a much bigger threat to Jesus than a few crudely developed nomads. I forsee an ASIAN witchhunt coming soon.

So, to avoid getting on the watchlist, I've compiled a few guidepoints:

1. Attend an Evangelical Protestant Church, preferably with a band
2. Be white, of Germanic or Anglo-Saxon decent
3. Buy and Drive only Ford products
4. Peeling and Faded "Support our troops" bumper sticker
5. Never drive more than 10 miles from where you live
6. Only eat good Christian foods that are mentioned in the Bible. Wine, OK, as long as it's in a box.
7. Only purchase goods at Walmart.
8. Do not patronize convenience/gas station stores with brown people working in them
9. ???

Sounds a lot like Timothy McVeigh!

Re:Alienation (2, Funny)

idontgno (624372) | more than 6 years ago | (#21294943)

You forgot to mention "Speak only English, just like Jesus did." [wisdomquotes.com]

Re:Alienation (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21294979)

Oh We see here you order French Fries, thats supporting the terrorist.
Eat Freedom Fries and support our troops.

Re:Alienation (1)

Splab (574204) | more than 6 years ago | (#21294917)

I'm from Denmark, so things might be different, but here quite a lot of Danes shop in middle eastern grocery shops. Prices are often low, they are often open when no super markets are (big shops aren't allowed to be open after 8 pm and may only be open some 12 Sundays a year) and on top of that you can get quite a lot of excellent tasting food not carried in the regular shops.

Re:Alienation (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21294991)

In fairness, the article says: "the project didn't last long. It was torpedoed by the head of the FBI's criminal investigations division, Michael A. Mason, who argued that putting somebody on a terrorist list for what they ate was ridiculous -- and possibly illegal."

In any big organization there will be stupid ideas. The important thing is that dumb ideas get stopped, which in this case happened.

Re:Alienation (1)

mapkinase (958129) | more than 6 years ago | (#21295031)

We need to tattoo them in the foreheads. Or give them yellow armbands.

Persecution of differences (5, Insightful)

TheMeuge (645043) | more than 6 years ago | (#21295151)

I think that it's even more insidious than what you describe. It's not even being Middle Eastern that attracts the attention of authorities in this matter, but rather what food you purchase.

This isn't even targeted ethnic discrimination, but rather a blatant foray into the realm of persecuting any deviation from the "american norm". To me, this says: "What, you don't purchase apple pies, soda, and hamburger? Instead you buy pita, chickpeas, and lamb? You're not like us... thus you are an enemy"

This is not just ethnic profiling run amock, but rather the beginnings of persecuting any differences from the average. The logical continuation of this policy would be to data mine television watching habits, and blacklist those who do not watch reality TV... or better yet, flag anyone whose TV is turned on for less than 2 hours per day.

Bill O'Reilly id'd by his falafel (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21294479)

and his lufah!

And all in the name of tracking down Turrrists.. (1)

Bananatree3 (872975) | more than 6 years ago | (#21294481)

This combined with the "secret room" In ATT for the NSA, and no need for FISA court (which the judges themselves angry). Full disclosure, full steam ahead!

Re:And all in the name of tracking down Turrrists. (1)

griffjon (14945) | more than 6 years ago | (#21294995)

It's silliness like this that a good round of impeachment hearings would bring to light all at once. Sure, we get a trickle of privacy invasions, unconstitutional breaches, and so on. But then we're also /. readers, contributors to the EFF and/or ACLU (I donate to both), and generally tuned in, unlike most of the populace. A sudden flood of all the BS that's been going on in the name of counter-terrorism would be a nice slap in the face to wake people up.

The Food Police (1)

timeOday (582209) | more than 6 years ago | (#21294483)

You can't have a decent scandal without a snappy catchphrase.

What? (1, Redundant)

downix (84795) | more than 6 years ago | (#21294505)

So my love of Lebanese food will make me a marked man?

Re:What? (2, Funny)

CRCulver (715279) | more than 6 years ago | (#21294515)

I know! One of my big hobbies is strapping on a bomb and muttering threats against the U.S. government, but with stories like this I'm afraid I might be taken for one of those terrorists.

Re:What? (1)

Gravatron (716477) | more than 6 years ago | (#21294541)

Indeed. Aperently, terrorists can't eat anything but native dishes. This whole thing is so very, very stupid.

Re:What? (3, Funny)

downix (84795) | more than 6 years ago | (#21294587)

Mohammad Atta ate for his last dinner...

at Pizza Hut across the street from the Portland Mall, in front of the South Portland Cinema, next to IHOP and a gas station. (I know that exact Pizza Hut) We must get the records of everyone that eats pizza, shops at a mall, watches movies, enjoys breakfast and buys gas!

Re:What? (1)

Applekid (993327) | more than 6 years ago | (#21294685)

We must get the records of everyone that eats pizza, shops at a mall, watches movies, enjoys breakfast and buys gas!
Dear downix:
    We're working on it. One step at a time.

Love,
    FBI, CIA, DHS, NSA, ATF, DOJ, USA et al.

Re:What? (1)

rucs_hack (784150) | more than 6 years ago | (#21294609)

yes, if you shop in one of the mined locations.

If someone else who turns out to be a real terrorist, or even makes the list of 'shifty looking, might be a danger' shops in the same place, or turns out to have been there at the same time, expect 'inconveniences'.

Re:What? (1)

canuck57 (662392) | more than 6 years ago | (#21294775)

So my love of Lebanese food will make me a marked man?

Doubtful. Lots of people eat the stuff.

But think, they are actually targeting the terrorists. I doubt they eat beef hot dogs from Costco or buy Kentucky Bourbon. Terrorists are also transient. So a lot of one time purchases, or 2-3 week visits might indicate something. Combine this with other sources and at least you have a smaller, likely better list than going after Christian grandmothers looking for a nip at Bob's liqueur emporium. At least it isn't someone who is wearing a turban patting down the ladies at the airport.

At some point profiling is necessary if you want to be at all effective in identification of terrorists. But would agree if such evidence be used in court, it would be racist even to bring it up.

Falafels, eh? (3, Funny)

shrubya (570356) | more than 6 years ago | (#21294507)

Better put Bill O'Reilly [google.com] on the airport watch list then.

Good thing. . . (2, Funny)

smooth wombat (796938) | more than 6 years ago | (#21294545)

I always use cash when I go to Achmed's Food Emporium with his "special" back room full of "good deals".

Hey Uncle Sam! (1)

Bananatree3 (872975) | more than 6 years ago | (#21294551)

Quit sending Men In Black with their shaded-window cars into my shop! They're scaring away my customers!

Just another reason I pay cash when possible. (5, Insightful)

RandoX (828285) | more than 6 years ago | (#21294561)

Buying hunting ammunition? Pay cash. Buying food? Cash. Fireworks? Cash. Whether I have a reason to or not. And don't get me started on those "in-store discount cards".

Re:Just another reason I pay cash when possible. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21294643)

So how's that tin foil fitting?

Re:Just another reason I pay cash when possible. (1)

RandoX (828285) | more than 6 years ago | (#21294763)

Hilarious that the parent posted AC to avoid having want his/her actions traced back.

Re:Just another reason I pay cash when possible. (1)

Chabil Ha' (875116) | more than 6 years ago | (#21294989)

When I was young my parents stopped shopping at a store that used those free 'discount' cards. My father's reasoning was that if they really wanted to give him a discount, they wouldn't require him to have a card to do it.

When I was in college the local grocery store stopped using the blasted things because roommates would barrow each others cards, skewing the data they were trying to collect. Serves them right.

No, I don't believe in those things either. It's nobody's business what am/am not buying, regardless if the government is out to get me or not.

in-store discount cards are great! (1)

vinn01 (178295) | more than 6 years ago | (#21295073)

I love the savings that I get using an in-store discount card! ...I should mention that I found my in-store discount card on the ground in the store parking lot. I have no idea whose card I'm using. I'll be sure to buy plenty of middle eastern food in their honor.

discount cards (2, Interesting)

jefu (53450) | more than 6 years ago | (#21295077)

I keep thinking it would be fun to offer a randomizing service for discount cards. Get a web site somewhere and have people mail you their discount card with a self-addressed stamped envelope. Pull one out of a box and return that, and drop the one you got into a box. The very paranoid could do this every month or two. Make it very hard to track anyone's purchases.

Of course, then your name might get associated with someone who is buying strange stuff. But if that occurred in another state, it would probably be easy to show it had nothing to do with you. Of course the supermarket chain would be likely to never want to sell anything to you again.

I also wonder how long such a site would be in existence before the stores hired legal hit men to take it down in court.

Wow! (4, Insightful)

gstoddart (321705) | more than 6 years ago | (#21294573)

If that's not racial profiling, I don't know what is?

Getting the information on anyone who purchased food at a Middle Eastern market? That's just crazy, and scarily over-broad.

Hell, I shop at Middle Eastern markets, and I'm about as pasty white as you get. I mean, where else am I gonna get some of those things? You can't buy them elsewhere, and they're just so damned yummy. Come to think of it, I shop at Latin Markets, Asian Markets, and Caribbean Markets -- does that make me a terrorist? Or merely someone who eats a lot of ethnic food?

This is like that now eerie joke about being arrested at an airport for "traveling while brown". Surely it's still legal and un-suspicious to buy ethnic food for crying out loud -- they're the only ones who have food worth eating. :-P

Cheers

Re:Wow! (1)

Russ Nelson (33911) | more than 6 years ago | (#21294621)

As long as you like your ethnic food with bacon, you're safe enough.

Re:Wow! (1)

Joe the Lesser (533425) | more than 6 years ago | (#21294803)

And make sure you butter that bacon! And bacon that sausage!

Re:Wow! (1)

darkmeridian (119044) | more than 6 years ago | (#21294781)

Well, it's not racial profiling and that's just proof that it's stupid. The program is certainly MEANT to be profiling by race/religion/ethnicity but situations like yours, where non-Muslims shop at these stores, reduce it's effectiveness in discriminating on these bases. This entire thing is ridiculous and I hope the government has better ideas than this when they try to keep me alive.

Re:Wow! (1)

holywarrior21c (933929) | more than 6 years ago | (#21294949)

anyone who purchased food at a Middle Eastern market
I am college student and i buy cereal and milk and some energy drink from an indian grocery because it is only a block away and they have low price on these items. the grocery at my dorm is overpriced. so am i some strange hobo who lives on cereal and milk and energy drinks and also plotting terrorism against America?

Re:Wow! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21295119)

"I am college student [...] so am i some strange hobo who lives on cereal and milk and energy drinks [...]"

Nuff said ...

Sources? (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21294593)

I like how the article linked as a source ("All signs point to...") contains the phrase: I have no sources at all for my argument today. I have nothing to back it up other than a gut feeling.

If you read the CQ article, which is the only source of information here (the other two rely on it totally), it is not clear that this idiotic program was ever implemented to any extent whatever. It may have just been some words written on a napkin after a late night of drunken FBI 'brain'-storming.

Patiently waiting... (4, Funny)

NetDanzr (619387) | more than 6 years ago | (#21294607)

I'm patiently waiting for the FBI to knock on my door and arrest me for all the ingredients I used (digested) in my attempts to create the perfect stink bomb.

so govt bad kroger ok (1)

trowlFAZ (131369) | more than 6 years ago | (#21294625)

so people are all bent out of shape that the GOVT is using data-mining, but it is ok for the big corps to do it?????

i think people should get their heads on straight and not just rail against the govt for this. it is something done by every major company. DUH! Unless you pay cash for EVERYTHING people know what you are up to and use that information to their advantage. Blows my mind you will get pissed off at the govt (OH yeah forgot pissed at GW Bush) but not at the corps in general.

Credit card companies? (1)

sdjc (1038542) | more than 6 years ago | (#21294633)

Do credit card companies actually know itemized purchases from a grocery store? This would be required in order to find who actually purchases these highly specific terrorist-food items. Oh, and don't use a credit card if you're a terrorist (for the beginners).

Re:Credit card companies? (1)

gduquette (173720) | more than 6 years ago | (#21295109)

No - but they know that person X purchased stuff at specific stores - which is the problem - knowing you shopped somewhere does not mean you purchased something nefarious.

OMG! Imaginary Terrorists! (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21294641)

I can't believe the FBI didn't figure out what a stupid idea this was! It's unbelievable. Oh, wait...

The program, however, was short lived and was quickly "torpedoed by the head of the FBI's criminal investigations division, Michael A. Mason, who argued that putting somebody on a terrorist list for what they ate was ridiculous -- and possibly illegal."

It'll be ugly one way or another (1)

magical_mystery_meat (1042950) | more than 6 years ago | (#21294661)

Either the authorities will engage in racial profiling, which will affect Americans of Middle Eastern descent, or they'll do this kind of half-assed correlation game based on a person's tastes, which affects Americans who like chickpeas and tahini.

How many John Walker Lindhs are out there? Tim McVeigh didn't shop at Omar's Halal Grocery...

Also.... (1)

EaglemanBSA (950534) | more than 6 years ago | (#21294667)

Also, what did they do with said list? Surely datamining usually begins with selecting a population and narrowing down based on some criteria, so you have to start with a large population (although I'm not condoning anything the FBI is doing), which puts this pretty much exactly in line with pure McCarthyism - just replace "red" or "communist" with "arab" or "terrorist".

What's scarier, that the credit card companies might be in bed with the government as much as telecoms, or what the FBI will do with their probably ineffective data?

What do you think "loyalty cards" are used for? (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21294671)

In around 1997, Giant Eagle in Pittsburgh had already accumulated many terabytes of that kind of data from the loyalty cards. They had also approached a number of professors at a famous university in town on how to data mine that data. Think of what the big boys have, Ralph's and Krogers and what have you. At the time, Giant Eagle had pretty harmless intentions, they wanted to manage inventory more intelligently and do the basic marketing stuff they've been talking about for years with data mining. (I don't know, I sort of see it as a service if my ads are targeted for me, I don't buy feminine products so I don't need coupons for that sort of thing..)


They are also private companies, you probably never saw any usage agreement and maybe weren't even aware that they were keeping that data. You give them that information and they can do what they want with it.


What's more interesting is if this kind of stuff actually helps them find real terrorists or if the hit/miss ratio is more akin to just identifying Muslims or Mid-easter people. There are always the stories of the FBI bullying the libraries and bookstores. It's disheartening, it makes you think twice and attacks some of the fundamental freedoms but is it actually effective? Perhaps there are a couple key meals that can fairly easily identify the eater as someone who has traveled to the Afghanistan/Pakistan border.. And perhaps that increases the likelihood of you being a terrorist like 10,000%. Then coupled with some key readings you may or may not have read they can further increase the likelihood that you're a terrorist. I hate this stuff but it really works then that is interesting and definitely has impact on how society will feel about it.

Re:What do you think "loyalty cards" are used for? (1)

jrumney (197329) | more than 6 years ago | (#21295049)

What's more interesting is if this kind of stuff actually helps them find real terrorists or if the hit/miss ratio is more akin to just identifying Muslims or Mid-easter people.

I was just cross checking the chocolate egg purchases from the loyalty program database with attacks on abortion clinics, and realised what a problem we have with Mid-Easter fundamentalist Christian terrorists in this country.

Time to... (1)

SlipperHat (1185737) | more than 6 years ago | (#21294675)

- bake your bread
- pickle your own olives
- make your own cheese
- slaughter your own animals

I wonder if the FBI+DHS ever assess the social impact of their decisions or is everything solely for "the greater good".
The land of opportunity is quickly becoming the land of "watch out".

Re:Time to... (1)

jrumney (197329) | more than 6 years ago | (#21295161)

If the FBI are really smart, they'll track who's buying compasses so they can slaughter their animals facing Mecca. All those Boy Scouts out there better prepare for when the squat team comes to smash their door in and fill their houses with tear gas.

comments TFA (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21294705)

In other news, the FBI hopes to catch a black man accused of robbing a liquor store in Queens by analyzing recent fried chicken and watermelon purchases.

This might be rhetorical, but.... (2, Insightful)

zappepcs (820751) | more than 6 years ago | (#21294709)

Why is the FBI full of fucking idiots?
Sifting through billions of food purchases is not going to find a serious terror threat, not even when combined with any other data. For instance: John Ahmed Richardson has decided to become a terrorist after being recruited by militant persons. First, his flying lessons will not raise suspicions. Second, his explosives license for construction work will not either. Third, the chemical contaminants he will use to cause an eventual shutdown of a power grid are snuck into the country. Fourth, he hates fscking falafel.

So, all I can determine here is that the FBI is only interested in catching the stupid terrorists, or only able to do that, and does so to give itself a good name in the view of the public. Meanwhile actual and real determined terrorists work in secret and will manage to do what they desire without tipping off the FBI, the CIA, or any other law enforcement group. These law enforcement groups had valid actionable information about the 9/11 plot and ignored it. What good will it do them to find someone that likes Turkish food?

They all look like idiots!!

Re:This might be rhetorical, but.... (1)

Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) | more than 6 years ago | (#21295021)

Sifting through billions of food purchases is not going to find a serious terror threat, not even when combined with any other data.
But it does mean the agents get paid.
And the supervisors get to have a bunch of agents working for them on a project.
And their supervisors get to show that they are spending tax payer money on counter terrorism programs.

And so the DHS empire with all its little fiefdoms gets to justify its enormous budget.

Re:This might be rhetorical, but.... (1)

Bobzibub (20561) | more than 6 years ago | (#21295083)

They're not idiots, they just have much too much money to spend.
Once you start targeting the general population, time to cut the budget.

If you haven't done anything wrong, they you ... (0)

Foamy (29271) | more than 6 years ago | (#21294715)

Oh wait!

Driving While Black replaced--- (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21294721)

with Eating While Muslim

XXL Trojan condoms (1)

agent (7471) | more than 6 years ago | (#21294739)

and booze!

TGIF.

Buy Olives, Go to Jail? (0, Redundant)

Tsu Dho Nimh (663417) | more than 6 years ago | (#21294771)

So my addiction to good cured olives (not those nasty canned ones) is going to have the FBI on my doorstep?

Too dependent (3, Interesting)

Etrias (1121031) | more than 6 years ago | (#21294779)

We've become far too dependent on technology for trying to do actual investigative work. Data mining for ethnic foods? What happened to having a spy network in places that have known terrorists or security threats? Is the will even there to do this kind of first hand work or have we just given up and rely on computer algorithms to do the work for us?

Maybe someone within the FBI/NSA is pushing for technological solutions to do this kind of heavy lifting that used to be done by people. I don't know, but it doesn't make a lot of sense. We're not a meat and potatoes society anymore. People of every stripe are going out of their comfort zones and finding ethnic food really tasty (I am one of those people within the last 7-10 years). Do I get put on a watch list because I go through a month where I'm craving a good gyro and find the best place to get really good gyro is my local halal shop?

Shocking. But now all this food talk has made me hungry. Thanks FBI.

The Falafil List (1)

malevolentjelly (1057140) | more than 6 years ago | (#21294795)

I hope my love of middle eastern food doesn't get me deported.

I would be okay with this profiling, if they would be so kind as to simply publish the name of every falafil consumer in the country on a website known only as "The Falafil List". I would like this to come up in every day life. "I'm sorry, you can no longer fly on airplanes anymore because you are on The Falafil List."

Maybe they should make these people wear a band around their arm with a golden pita.

I wonder if they're able to track the purchase of tahini, garbanzo beans, chick peas, and lemons into a could-be hummos? I hope their datamining skills are complete enough to track those terrorists who know how to throw together a quick and delicious party snack.

Want baba ganouj? Use cash. (1)

raddan (519638) | more than 6 years ago | (#21294805)

Are you f'ing serious? Isn't this exactly the kind of abuse that privacy advocates have been screaming about since the start? What does this kind of shopping preference tell you, seriously? For starters, it does not actually tell you if the person is Middle Eastern! There is simply a greater likelihood that the person is. But do we really care if the person is Middle Eastern? No! We're looking for terrorists! Once again, there's simply another, slightly higher (because, honestly, what proportion of Middle Easterners are terrorists? Very small) probability that the person is a terrorist. Now, I'm no mathematician, but I suspect that eventually, the noise drowns out the signal. The end result is intelligence agents wasting their time. I think it is pretty clear to everyone by now, that, if you want to find the terrorists, you need to follow the money. These people do not operate in a vaccuum. Traditional intelligence (remember when 'intelligence' had something to do with being smart?) is very good at this kind of thing. Note to United States: use your fucking brains.

Food Club Cards (1)

Dan East (318230) | more than 6 years ago | (#21294809)

Worse than credit cards are the "Food Club" discount cards. Around here we have lots of Food Lion grocery stores (they're practically in every town), and they use "MVP" cards. Customers only get sale prices if they have an MVP card. The cards are free, but you have to fill out some demographic information on the application.

Those things allow tracking of every single item a customer purchases, regardless of how they pay. Most customers are completely oblivious to the privacy ramifications.

Dan East

Re:Food Club Cards (1)

veganboyjosh (896761) | more than 6 years ago | (#21295001)

The cards are free, but you have to fill out some demographic information on the application.

I've only been in one store where i had to show id to get the card, and that was in Pittsburgh, PA. I was only there for a weekend; I made one purchase. I did save about 4 bucks, tho, so it was worth it. To me, anyway. I don't guess the store cares that one kid from Colorado bought some stuff to make PB&J's for the weekend.

All the other stores just hand the card over, and tell you to fill out the form and mail it in. Option 1> fill it out with fake info. Option 2> Throw it out on your way out the door. I don't think filling out a supermarket frequent buyer's club card incorrectly is against the law...

Re:Food Club Cards (1)

Rob the Bold (788862) | more than 6 years ago | (#21295035)

The cards are free, but you have to fill out some demographic information on the application.

Food club cards are fun to trade with friends and strangers. Not so much to screw with the FBI or NSA as to pollute the grocery stores' databases. I don't think I've accurately filled out the application for a food club card since I realized what they were doing with them.

Re:Food Club Cards (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21295091)

That's why I always register for these cards under the name Hillary Clinton. Personally I try to keep at least 10 of these cards for each chain under different names. I just throw them all in a bowl and grab one when I am heading out the door.

Middle Eastern Food (1)

clang_jangle (975789) | more than 6 years ago | (#21294813)

Middle Eastern food is often favored by peace-loving American vegetarians, like me. :) So they get a list of "possible terrorists" which includes peace-loving vegetarians and possible PETA or Greenpeace activists/sympathisers, hey -- this may be one of the most successful security moves yet!

PETA and Greenpeace both... (1)

iknownuttin (1099999) | more than 6 years ago | (#21294899)

have a history of violence among their members and organizations. They are technically terrorist groups. The same goes for anti-abortion groups.

That's what you get when you use violence as a means to your goals.

The Siege says different (1)

DrXym (126579) | more than 6 years ago | (#21294825)

Anyone who's watched The Siege knows terrorists like eating pizza.

would terrorists really use credit cards? (2, Interesting)

jollyreaper (513215) | more than 6 years ago | (#21294849)

Everything we heard about the 9-11 operation (granted, it was filtered through the government) is that these were cash operations. And that only makes sense. Given the state of technology these days, the following rules for covert operation seem to make sense:

1. Operate cash-only to make your activities harder to track
2. Make sure you are not flashy with the cash, drawing suspicion
3. Shave the beard, drop the turban, live as western as possible
4. Do not flash the cash, keep yourself as average joe as possible
5. Don't use cell phones or be sure to swap out sim cards frequently, seeing as the cops can track the cells

From what I've read, the skilled terrorists really know how to operate under the radar. The covert communication technology of choice, the fax machine. Handwrite messages in Arabic, fax back and forth. The goverment agencies are short on translators. Even if the messages were sent in the clear, it would take them a long time to figure anything out, assuming it was intercepted. If any kind of codes are used, it takes even more time to figure it out.

Re:would terrorists really use credit cards? (1)

Anonymous Curmudgeon (146746) | more than 6 years ago | (#21295163)

Which means that the FBI just needs to data-mine for hotbeds of cash use. If you're afraid to be tracked by your credit card and discount card use, you clearly have something to hide. Just remember: If you use cash, the terrorists win!

Don't know what makes me angrier (0)

saterdaies (842986) | more than 6 years ago | (#21294915)

The fact that the FBI is racially data mining to find terrorists or the fact that they're so incompetent at it. If you're going to do something like this, you have to pick something a little less universal than middle-eastern food. By going off this data, one has to think the FBI has captured at least 50m Americans who buy Falafel and probably more than 100m (a third of the population). At that point, random checking would be nearly as effective.

Think of it this way, what if Google used the word "the" as a screen for a reputable website. Well, I can't imagine many English language sites without "the" in them. So, Google eliminates sites without "the" as non-reputable (like the FBI is eliminating non-Falafel buyers as not terrorists). Google is still left with almost all their sites and so the presence of "the" hasn't been an effective screen. Neither is buying middle-eastern food.

Frankly, they probably would have had a smaller set simply by looking at place of birth. Not that they should be racist/anti-immigrant like that, but the stupidity of this screen is just so bothersome.

So what do their computers think (1)

antifoidulus (807088) | more than 6 years ago | (#21294923)

when I buy hummus, booze, pork, and pitas. Now THAT is a good meal!

Uh oh! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21294941)

Let's hope the know the difference between giving money for feta and hummus and giving money for fatah and hamas.

Quick reality check (4, Insightful)

Otter (3800) | more than 6 years ago | (#21295003)

I know posting after the first five minutes on any YRO story is pointless, especially on something as inflammatory as this, but since no one will RTFA:

1) "The brainchild of top FBI counterterrorism officials Phil Mudd and Willie T. Hulon, according to well-informed sources, the project didn't last long. It was torpedoed by the head of the FBI's criminal investigations division, Michael A. Mason, who argued that putting somebody on a terrorist list for what they ate was ridiculous -- and possibly illegal."

2) "All signs point to the credit card companies providing this data" is a rather generous spin on a theory that the author simply made up.

3) Do Iranians eat falafel at all? I've never seen it in Persian restaurants. Or do none of you people know the difference between them and Arabs?

Re:Quick reality check (1)

Otter (3800) | more than 6 years ago | (#21295135)

Oh, and:

4) If you're old enough to use a keyboard, you're too old to use the word "yummy".

Oh, I dunno about CC companies being the only way. (1)

idontgno (624372) | more than 6 years ago | (#21295007)

All signs point to the credit card companies providing this data, and not the individual stores

I'm sure grocery chain loyalty card [wikipedia.org] information would be a rich vein of consumer purchase history to datamine. The only limit to that approach is that such membership is optional, whereas CC is almost mandatory in modern US consumer culture.

Re:Oh, I dunno about CC companies being the only w (1)

darjen (879890) | more than 6 years ago | (#21295059)

You can always give them fake info when you sign up for a loyalty card. It's not like they ever check (at least places like Giant Eagle). And if the terrorists were actually smart I'd think they would use cash most of the time. As far as I know, most grocery stores still accept greenbacks.

Want to subvert the FBI? (2, Funny)

ThatsNotFunny (775189) | more than 6 years ago | (#21295025)

Every once in a while, buy a little bit of ham.

You Might Be a Terrorist If (1)

tjstork (137384) | more than 6 years ago | (#21295037)

Amazon.com recommends "How to Blow Yourself Up Destroy His Enemy Western Christian Israel Loving Capitalist Apostates And Cash In With A Big Virgin Bonus."

Picture of Mohammed:

O O
    |
\___/

Audit them.... (1)

kilauea (263775) | more than 6 years ago | (#21295045)

I hope they're PCI compliant.

Ha Ha! Joke's on us! (1)

Hoi Polloi (522990) | more than 6 years ago | (#21295047)

This is an April Fools prank, right? I've been asleep for a few months and now the joke's on me. Ha ha! Very funny. It is a joke, right? Right? Please say it's a joke.

minus 5, Troll) (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21295071)

copy a 17 Meg file guest and never get things I still to be about doing systems. The Gay an operating system Discuusion I'm

I Don't Think Whole Foods Does... (1)

Greyfox (87712) | more than 6 years ago | (#21295127)

I went down there on a cheese run and my room mate opted to come along because she needed a few items. She doesn't tend to shop down there as the prices tend to be higher and it's a bit farther from the house than the other grocery stores. So when we get up to the checkout counter my room mate inquires if they have a discount card. The clerk says, in that paranoid tone usually reserved for tinfoil-hat-wearing slashdot posters, "Oh, we don't do that. We don't track our customers." So if you want your derka derka, Whole Foods is where it's at (But only pay cash derka allah jihad!)

Invalid... (1)

kitsunewarlock (971818) | more than 6 years ago | (#21295139)

You know the last meal of the terrorists prior to 9/11 was Pizza Hut, right?

Mmm...cheesy, greasy and cheap middle eastern cuisine...

Maybe that's why...no...too easy.
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