Secret Service and government agencies illegally used smartphone location data

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in iOS

A new government report confirms that US agencies including Customs and Border Enforcement broke the law by using location data harvested from iPhone and Android apps.

Intentional location sharing in iOS 17
Intentional location sharing in iOS 17



Back in 2020, it was claimed that the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency bought harvested data in order to circumvent laws limiting the use of location data from phone companies. The agency then used the data to track and ultimately detain immigrants.

As first spotted by 404, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has confirmed the news. Specifically, a new report from the Office of Inspector General called "CBP, ICE, and Secret Service Did Not Adhere to Privacy Policies or Develop Sufficient Policies Before Procuring and Using Commercial Telemetry Data," has been published.

While portions of the report are redacted, it says that these agencies "purchased access to commercial telemetry data (CTD) collected from mobile devices that included, among other things, historical device location."

The report details an investigation into multiple government agencies, but that work also uncovered a case of an individual in one agency using location tracking for personal use.

"[We] identified one instance in which, unrelated to an investigation, a CBP employee used CTD inappropriately to track coworkers," says the report. "The individual told the coworkers that they had tracked their location using CTD."

In that case, a complaint was filed by another employee and was "resolved administratively."

It's not illegal for government agencies to buy commercially available data for use in an investigation. However, use of such data "within the Federal Government is controlled," and agencies "are required to conduct a Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA) before developing or procuring IT that collects, maintains, or disseminates information in an identifiable form."

"CBP, ICE, and Secret Service did not adhere to Department privacy policies or develop sufficient policies before procuring and using CTD," it continues. "Specifically, the components did not adhere to DHS' privacy policies and the 2002 Act by ensuring they had approved CTD PIAs."

"This failure to adhere occurred because the components did not have sufficient internal controls to ensure compliance with DHS privacy policies," says the report, "and because DHS Privacy did not follow or enforce its own privacy policies and guidance."

What happens next



The report makes eight recommendations, chiefly concerning creating new procedures and implementing them. Homeland Security has agreed to six of the recommendations.

Most significantly, it has refused the report's recommendation that use of all such location data be discontinued until new procedures are in place.

"Non-concur," says the DHS in a response. "CTD is an important mission contributor to the ICE investigative process as, in combination with other information and investigative methods, it can fill knowledge gaps and produce investigative leads that might otherwise remain hidden."

"Accordingly," it says, "continued use of CTD enables ICE HSI to successfully accomplish its law enforcement mission."

Separately, it was discovered in 2018 that despite Apple's App Store privacy rules at the time, multiple apps were tracking precise location data and selling it. WeatherBug, for instance, was found to be selling data including exact longitude and latitude to 40 companies.

Apple at that time required apps to anonymize data being passed to advertisers in order protect individuals.

This data was gathered and sold by app firms without a user's permission. In 2018, Apple introduced Intelligent Tracking Protection in Safari to counter this.

Then in 2021, Apple introduced App Tracking Transparency. It requires all apps to explicitly ask permission to track a user.

Not surprisingly, when presented with the information about being a tracked, a number of iPhone users refused permission. What may be more surprising is just what a difference that made to the advertising industry.

In February 2022, Facebook announced that it would take a $10 billion revenue hit, specifically because of App Tracking Transparency.

Read on AppleInsider

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 13
    9secondkox29secondkox2 Posts: 2,835member
    The government does illegal things to spy on its own people…

    is this news? 

    You have to wonder how many “vulnerabilities” are just purpose built back doors until they’re “discovered” and patched only for the revolving door to slip another one in at the same time. 
    edited October 2023 Oferdarkvadermacxpressbyronlwatto_cobra
  • Reply 2 of 13
    mayflymayfly Posts: 385member
    In the words of the late great philosopher:

    jfabula1Michae1byronlwatto_cobra
  • Reply 3 of 13
    AppleishAppleish Posts: 696member
    The Secret Service is particularly worrying, considering they wiped their own cell phone data with no back up after January 6th.
    mayflyjfabula1williamlondonbadmonkdarkvaderAlex_VNoGodsNoMasterssmalmbyronlwatto_cobra
  • Reply 4 of 13
    mknelsonmknelson Posts: 1,128member
    The government does illegal things to spy on its own people…

    is this news? 

    You have to wonder how many “vulnerabilities” are just purpose built back doors until they’re “discovered” and patched only for the revolving door to slip another one in at the same time. 
    No, I don't. I'm not a member of the tin-foil hat crowd.

    Companies like Apple have no vested interest in allowing back doors.

    There is enough open source software incorporated in modern devices that agencies can find and take advantage vulnerabilities. Sneaking one in would require the open source community to be complicit or blind.

    Also, this report has nothing to do with back doors in the devices being tracked. It was commercially sourced from cell companies.
    williamlondonappleinsideruserbonobobbaconstangiOSDevSWE9secondkox2Alex_Vbyronlwatto_cobra
  • Reply 5 of 13
    hodarhodar Posts: 358member
    If I am accused of breaking the law, I expect that I will have my day in court.  I will have my chance to plead my case; then I will be either found innocent, or will face the consequences.

    Why any agency (Fed, State, County or City) is exempted from this very basic idea, escapes me.  Without consequences, there is zero reason they won't continue, or further encroach on our freedoms, privacy and basic rights.
    darkvadermayfly9secondkox2Alex_VNoGodsNoMasterstoranagabyronlwatto_cobra
  • Reply 6 of 13
    jfabula1jfabula1 Posts: 138member
    The government does illegal things to spy on its own people…

    is this news? 

    You have to wonder how many “vulnerabilities” are just purpose built back doors until they’re “discovered” and patched only for the revolving door to slip another one in at the same time. 
    Just like the revolving door in the border, its not News
    williamlondon9secondkox2watto_cobra
  • Reply 7 of 13
    mayflymayfly Posts: 385member
    hodar said:
    If I am accused of breaking the law, I expect that I will have my day in court.  I will have my chance to plead my case; then I will be either found innocent, or will face the consequences.

    Why any agency (Fed, State, County or City) is exempted from this very basic idea, escapes me.  Without consequences, there is zero reason they won't continue, or further encroach on our freedoms, privacy and basic rights.
    One nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all (old white men with money).
    darkvader9secondkox2NoGodsNoMastersJaiOh81byronlwatto_cobra
  • Reply 8 of 13
    macxpressmacxpress Posts: 5,840member
    Shut the front door!!!!
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 10 of 13
    All the glib comments worry me a little.  This year alone a federal court found our government guilty of working with big social media platforms to sensor free speech, while the attorney general issued a memo to the FBI allowing parents who speak out at school board meetings to be classified as ‘domestic terrorists. Now we see a report that our government is using our technology to track us.  Aren’t we past the point for jokes?
    NoGodsNoMasterswilliamlondonspock1234toranagabyronlwatto_cobra
  • Reply 11 of 13
    toddzrxtoddzrx Posts: 254member
    Michae1 said:
    All the glib comments worry me a little.  This year alone a federal court found our government guilty of working with big social media platforms to sensor free speech, while the attorney general issued a memo to the FBI allowing parents who speak out at school board meetings to be classified as ‘domestic terrorists. Now we see a report that our government is using our technology to track us.  Aren’t we past the point for jokes?
    Not on this forum. Most of AI’s readership is pretty progressive (shocker) and don’t seem to mind the government trampling on basic civil liberties. 
    williamlondonspock1234byronl
  • Reply 12 of 13
    XedXed Posts: 2,668member
    Michae1 said:
    All the glib comments worry me a little.  This year alone a federal court found our government guilty of working with big social media platforms to sensor free speech, while the attorney general issued a memo to the FBI allowing parents who speak out at school board meetings to be classified as ‘domestic terrorists. Now we see a report that our government is using our technology to track us.  Aren’t we past the point for jokes?
    Don't be a sucker. Step away from Facebook and stop being duped by Jim Jordan and his ilk.

    https://www.politifact.com/factchecks/2021/nov/19/facebook-posts/no-fbi-isnt-adding-threat-tags-parents-who-protest/
    williamlondonJaiOh81watto_cobra
  • Reply 13 of 13
    Xed said:
    Michae1 said:
    All the glib comments worry me a little.  This year alone a federal court found our government guilty of working with big social media platforms to sensor free speech, while the attorney general issued a memo to the FBI allowing parents who speak out at school board meetings to be classified as ‘domestic terrorists. Now we see a report that our government is using our technology to track us.  Aren’t we past the point for jokes?
    Don't be a sucker. Step away from Facebook and stop being duped by Jim Jordan and his ilk.

    https://www.politifact.com/factchecks/2021/nov/19/facebook-posts/no-fbi-isnt-adding-threat-tags-parents-who-protest/
    Don't be deliberately ignorant.

    1. A current FBI agent testified under oath that he was personally asked to go to a school board meetings, and record the license-plate numbers of the parent in attendance.
    2. The DOJ issued memo listing all the statutes under which parents could conceivably be charged, just for engaging in their First Amendment protected right to free speech on issues concerning the education of their children. 
    3. The documents released by Twitter proved that multiple government agencies ordered and directed the censoring of our free speech rights at several social media companies. Two federal courts found this proof convincing enough that they barred the Biden Administration, its agencies, and specific persons within them, from communicating with any of those social media companies. That is am extreme remedy, but fitting given the extreme violations of civil rights that occurred. 

    None of this speculation - it is proven fact, and the worst violation of our Free Speech rights by our Government since the founding of our Republic. 
    edited October 2023 toranagabyronlwilliamlondonwatto_cobra
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