Your Grocery List Could Spark a Terror Probe

“They thought they were making routine purchases — the innocent, everyday pickups of charcoal and hummus, bleach and sandwich bags, that keep the modern household running. Regulars at a national grocery chain, these thousands and thousands of shoppers used the store’s preferred-customer cards, in the process putting years of their lives on file. Perhaps they expected their records would be used by marketers trying to better target consumers. Instead, says the company’s privacy consultant, the data was used by government agents hunting for potential terrorists. The saga began with a misguided fit of patriotism mere weeks after the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks, when a corporate employee handed over the records — almost literally, the grocery lists — to federal investigators from three agencies that had never even requested them. In a flash, the most quotidian of exchanges became fodder for the Patriot Act.”