The document, obtained by security researcher Christopher Soghoian, explains how so-called “Hotwatch” orders allow for real-time tracking of individuals in a criminal investigation via credit card companies, rental car agencies, calling cards, and even grocery store loyalty programs. The revelation sheds a little more light on the Justice Department’s increasing power and willingness to surveil Americans with little to no judicial or Congressional oversight.
Then the agent sends a request for “Any and all records and information relating directly or indirectly to any and all ongoing and future transactions or events relating to any and all of the following person(s), entitities, account numbers, addresses and other matters…” That gets them a live feed of transaction data.
It’s not clear what standards an agent would have to follow to get a “Hotwatch” order. The Justice Department told Soghoian the document is the only one it could find relating to “hotwatches” — which means there is either no policy or the department is witholding relevant documents.
The Justice Department did not return a call for comment.
Every year, the Justice Department does have to report to Congress the numbers of criminal and national security wiretaps undertaken, as well as the number of National Security Letters issued. Tens of thousands of NSLs are issued yearly — most with gag orders that forbid ISPs or librarians from ever saying they have ever been served with such a subpoena.
But the Justice Department does not report or make public the number of times it got real time or historic cell phone location information, nor how often it is using these so-called “hotwatch” orders.