Convenience and the FBI

Stewart Whitson, late of the FBI and currently Foundation for Government Accountability Legal Director, decried in his Tuesday Wall Street Journal op-ed, a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau effort to completely eliminate the ability of credit-reporting companies to sell credit-header data to law enforcement agencies, including to the FBI. Those header data include a variety of identifying material but, as Whitson was careful to emphasize, no financial information.

This, actually, is one of the few things the CFPB would get right were it to follow through.

In support of his plaint, Whitson related an 8-year-old incident in which he and a partner were conducting surveillance on a suspect and observing his contact with a third individual. Whitson bragged about being able to use credit-header data—but no financial data, mind you—to contact that third individual, arrange a meeting, and through that, foil the suspect’s planned terrorist attack.

Without the credit-header data, we might not have been able to contact the occupant for a while, giving [the suspect] more time to carry out his attack.

Whitson bragged about FBI success with such purchases and then put his disingenuous question.

I worked on hundreds of terrorism-related investigations at the FBI, all of which relied on credit-header data. Why doesn’t the CFPB want law enforcement to have quick access to this information?

Perhaps because the purchases are, at bottom, violations of our Constitution’s inconvenient 4th Amendment, regardless of their convenient-to-government speed.

How inconvenient it is, after all, to follow the Constitution’s requirement for warrants before searches occur. That the FBI got lucky—or even that purchasing personally identifying data (the lack of financial data being a cynically offered red herring here) materially helped—in no way legitimizes the FBI’s bypassing Constitutional requirements.

Get the warrants. If it often takes too long to get them, and that’s a legitimate beef, work on streamlining the process through the political branches of our government: the House and Senate. The Executive Branch does not get to skip the hard work or usurp political branch authorities.

Not even when its FBI claims that anxious and enthusiastic mothers at school boards are akin to domestic terrorists or that traditional Catholics are behaving suspiciously.

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