Big Brother Is Watching You Shop

Monday, 31 March 2003, 3:14 AM EST

The U.S. government has discovered a powerful resource in its war against terrorism -- credit-card records, hotel bills, grocery lists and other records detailing the private lives of its citizens.

Government investigators are turning to commercial databases to track down and isolate possible hijackers and suicide bombers before they strike, raising fear among privacy advocates that long-standing protections against government snooping may be eroded.

The Transportation Security Administration is developing an airline passenger-screening program that would check private records such as credit reports to assess risk, prompting a fierce debate about the merits of such "pattern recognition" systems.

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