I used to work in the electronic payment processing industry, and was amazed at the amount of purchasing data that passed through our systems on a daily basis. My company was in a top 10 processor, with First Data Corp dominating the field. I recall seeing statistics that something like 1 in 3 credit card transactions somehow pass through First Data’s systems: they either processed the authorization, settled the transaction to the merchant, or provided services to the card issuing bank. With millions of transactions flowing through their servers each day, First Data has at their disposal an immense database that many would enjoy access to.
It seems that the federal government didn’t even have to ask. According this story in the Rocky Mountain News, First Data volunteered their databases for terrorist-related data-mining activities:
In the days after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, First Data Corp. and its Western Union unit volunteered itself for the U.S. government’s war on terror.
FBI agents happily turned the Greenwood Village-based company into a “deadly weapon” to fight terrorism, according to a new book by Pulitzer Prize winner Ron Suskind.
At the same time, however, the Bush administration used First Data to create a “vast search-and-seizure machine” that sifted through millions of Americans’ credit-card purchases and wire transfers, unbeknownst to congressional overseers or the secret court designed to rule on matters of domestic surveillance, Suskind reported.
… First Data is a key player in Suskind’s book from the opening words of Chapter 1. Suskind says the Omaha office of the FBI reported to headquarters that First Data, which has a processing facility in Nebraska, “wanted to help in any way it could.” An agent named Dennis Lormel, who knew that First Data not only processed credit-card transactions but also owned Western Union, said the development “could be very, very big. . . . We need to turn this company into a deadly weapon.”
Soon after, Suskind says, federal agents were inside First Data’s Omaha facility, running the last names of the terrorists through the company’s massive records of credit-card transactions.
[via Pogo Was Right]