Surprising Things the US Government Knows About You

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6. Drone images of property and home

With Google Earth Street View and sites like Zillow.com, we’re getting pretty used to the idea that just about anyone can take a look at our homes. But you may not know that police don’t need a warrant for anything they can observe from public airspace, say, by using drones to peek into your home, business or vehicle.

The Fourth Amendment protects us against unlawful searches and seizures in cases where people have “reasonable expectations of privacy.” As drones become more common and we grow accustomed to the aforementioned Zillow and Google depictions of our dwellings, are we losing the right to reasonably expect even the slightest bit of privacy?

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7. Credit limit and outstanding debt

Credit agencies offer one-stop shopping for an awful lot of our personal information. They gather as much info on our financial lives as they possibly can — how much credit we have, want or have been offered; the size of debt we’re burdened with, how timely or untimely we pay our bills, and whether we’ve ever attracted the attention of a professional bill collector. The agencies aggregate this info and make it available to anyone willing to pay for it, such as banks, credit card issuers, auto lenders, insurance companies, landlords and employers. Credit bureaus also provide info to the U.S. government — no court order required.

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8. Online purchase history

Getting permission to spy on U.S. citizens can be a real pain in the neck for agencies such as the FBI and NSA. But there are work-arounds, of course, such as asking private companies to share the information consumers have willingly provided. The queries can be general, such as the names of everyone who has ordered a specific product within a certain time frame. Or they can be more focused, including everything purchased by a specific customer. Many companies have policies about how much they’re willing to share with law enforcement without a court order; check terms and conditions for details.

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9. Video and music history

When we click to agree to the online terms and conditions, we may be consenting to more than we realize. After all, who takes the time to read screen after screen of tiny print when we’re eager to check out something all of our friends and colleagues are talking about. Websites, search engines and ISPs can collect an awful lot of data that we don’t give a second thought to, such as our video and music download history. Government agencies can ask online vendors to share the information they routinely gather, and some will do so without a court order. Who knows what the Drug Enforcement Administration, NSA, FBI or other agencies might make of some of our aural and visual obsessions?

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10. History of garnished wages

According to the Department of Labor, “Wage garnishment is a legal procedure in which a person’s earnings are required by court order to be withheld by an employer for the payment of a debt such as child support.” The key words here are “court order,” which essentially makes your private business available to anyone or any agency searching the public record. Information about garnishment would also be tracked by the major credit bureaus, which are overseen by the Federal Trade Commission and share their info with government agencies.