DHS skirting Supreme Court order by using purchased location data

Posted:
in General Discussion
The Trump administration has bought access to a commercial database capable of mapping the movements of millions of cellphones and is now using it for immigration and border enforcement.

Location data used by ICE, DHS to track movements of smartphone users


The data is often unwittingly given by individuals who grant location information upon launching an app for the first time. The location data is collected from any number of apps, including games, weather, news, and more.

It's been well documented that many third-party apps have been monetizing and selling user data, including user location information. In 2018, WeatherBug was found to be selling the exact longitude and latitude of users to 40 different companies.

The data, once harvested, is stored in commercial databases. Anyone who is willing to buy a licensing fee to the data can gain access to it.

According to documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has purchased and subsequently used that data to track and detain immigrants.

While prior use of such data hasn't been documented, it is likely not illegal for the government to have access to it. The government can buy access to the data from a commercial vendor, the same way a private company could.

A 2018 court ruling had limited the U.S. government's ability to obtain location data from phone companies, but purchasing commercially available data is a way for them to sidestep the rule. That same year, ICE bought $190,000 worth of licences to data stored by Virginia-based Venntel, who describe themselves as "pioneers in mobile location information."

Experts familiar with the situation say that this is one of the largest troves of bulk data being deployed by law enforcement in the United States. The data had initially been used to track human and drug-smuggling organizations but has since shared the data with ICE's arm that carries out deportations.

"We do not discuss specific law-enforcement tactics or techniques, or discuss the existence or absence of specific law-enforcement-sensitive capabilities," said ICE spokesman Bryan Cox. He went on to say the agency "generally" doesn't use location data for routine deportation operations.

Apple has taken steps to limit the quantity of data third-party companies can harvest to sell. Initiatives such as Intelligent Tracking Protection in Safari has helped secure more privacy by making it harder to track individual users, which advertising executives in December admitted has been "stunningly effective."

iOS 13 has also seen significant privacy updates that limit access to users' location data.. A new warning gives users options for users to allow an app to continue to track all the time or to do so when it is open, with users often selecting the latter.

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 15
    If the private sector can buy the data then why is it news that the government is doing the same thing? No one should be allowed to buy the data, since it’s effectively obtained via deception and/or the ignorance of users.

    And if people are breaking the law, and illegal immigrants are breaking the law, then the government should use whatever means they can to ensure the law is followed. Some may not like the consequences, but there are legal and respectful ways people in need can obtain access to the US. Sneaking in the country and getting access to jobs and benefits isn’t respectful when there are other ways to do it.
    dkhaleyh2pbeeble42watto_cobra
  • Reply 2 of 15
    davgregdavgreg Posts: 951member
    The biggest customer of data miners and other digital stalkers is government at all levels. They can buy stuff they are forbidden to collect without a court order, but can buy it commercially.

    Regardless of your politics, that should concern you.
    dewmesuddenly newtonpaxmanleehammwatto_cobra
  • Reply 3 of 15
    davgregdavgreg Posts: 951member

    georgie01 said:
    If the private sector can buy the data then why is it news that the government is doing the same thing? No one should be allowed to buy the data, since it’s effectively obtained via deception and/or the ignorance of users.

    And if people are breaking the law, and illegal immigrants are breaking the law, then the government should use whatever means they can to ensure the law is followed. Some may not like the consequences, but there are legal and respectful ways people in need can obtain access to the US. Sneaking in the country and getting access to jobs and benefits isn’t respectful when there are other ways to do it.
    Those cameras sprouting up on roads everywhere are private company owned and they have created a nationwide dragnet for license plates. When that data is matched to cell phone location data and commonly sold transaction data, they can compile a highly detailed view of your activity without probable cause or a warrant.
    leftoverbaconminicoffeeh2pzoetmbdbolanderwatto_cobra
  • Reply 4 of 15
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 6,449administrator
    georgie01 said:
    If the private sector can buy the data then why is it news that the government is doing the same thing? No one should be allowed to buy the data, since it’s effectively obtained via deception and/or the ignorance of users.

    And if people are breaking the law, and illegal immigrants are breaking the law, then the government should use whatever means they can to ensure the law is followed. Some may not like the consequences, but there are legal and respectful ways people in need can obtain access to the US. Sneaking in the country and getting access to jobs and benefits isn’t respectful when there are other ways to do it.
    I feel like your question in your first sentence is answered by the second sentence.

    The DHS is taking an interesting position. They were told to not use location data, and here's a partial list of why. Their position on this is that they aren't violating the part of "why" that the Supreme Court mentioned, so it's fine to get the data from other sources and use it.
    gatorguyStrangeDaysGeorgeBMacbeeble42
  • Reply 5 of 15
    peteopeteo Posts: 402member
    Wonder how long it takes them to use this data base on "Future" criminals, signaled out by AI that predicts possible crimes a person will commit in the future.
    Think about all the peace we will have /S


    leftoverbaconminicoffee
  • Reply 6 of 15
    spice-boyspice-boy Posts: 1,450member
    This time the target is illegal immigration, next time it will be your employer looking for information to determine your value with that company, you habits, and even political group associations. Health Insurance companies sees you eat fast food several times per week, increase in your rates, border control thinks you fishing trips to Canada are suspicious.....
    StrangeDaysleftoverbaconGeorgeBMaczoetmbjony0dbolandercornchip
  • Reply 7 of 15
    dewmedewme Posts: 4,239member
    I will weigh in on this on November 3, 2020.
    GeorgeBMacminicoffeejony0cornchip
  • Reply 8 of 15
    So if I want to remain out of these databases, I should disable location services for all apps and websites that want it.
    williamlondonleftoverbaconGeorgeBMaccornchipblah64watto_cobra
  • Reply 9 of 15
    paxmanpaxman Posts: 4,705member
    The incessant desire to track and control.  :/
    StrangeDayscornchipwatto_cobra
  • Reply 10 of 15
    StrangeDaysStrangeDays Posts: 12,063member
    spice-boy said:
    This time the target is illegal immigration, next time it will be your employer looking for information to determine your value with that company, you habits, and even political group associations. Health Insurance companies sees you eat fast food several times per week, increase in your rates, border control thinks you fishing trips to Canada are suspicious.....
    Exactly. These things are ALWAYS a slippery slope. Even the “but terrorists!” excuse has slipped to wanting to break into phones for mundane criminal cases. 
    leftoverbaconGeorgeBMacminicoffeejony0dbolanderwatto_cobra
  • Reply 11 of 15
    DAalsethDAalseth Posts: 2,034member
    Laws? We don’t need no stinking laws...
    GeorgeBMacdewmecornchipwatto_cobra
  • Reply 12 of 15
    GeorgeBMacGeorgeBMac Posts: 11,421member
    So if I want to remain out of these databases, I should disable location services for all apps and websites that want it.

    Yes, generally they don't need it to provide whatever services you installed the app for.
    I keep WeatherBug location tracking to "never".   They don't need it -- I tell them the location I want weather info for.
    edited February 2020 cornchipwatto_cobra
  • Reply 13 of 15
    GeorgeBMacGeorgeBMac Posts: 11,421member
    It's not just over zealous or corrupt government employees or agencies who can misuse this data.  
    There are countless uses for it that you would never agree to had you known.

    "Ok, he's gone.   The house is empty.   Let's go"

    It's also why I will not use a non-Apple hub with home automation.  I don't control what they see, what they know or how they use it (or sell it).
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 14 of 15
    zoetmbzoetmb Posts: 2,618member
    People think such violation of their privacy is never going to affect them personally or they feel that it's already too late because with or without phone, we're already being tracked everywhere.   So they let it happen.   


    dbolanderFileMakerFellerwatto_cobra
  • Reply 15 of 15
    DAalsethDAalseth Posts: 2,034member
    zoetmb said:
    People think such violation of their privacy is never going to affect them personally or they feel that it's already too late because with or without phone, we're already being tracked everywhere.   So they let it happen.   


    Sadly, that is true. The next step will be (not may be) to put anyone who tries to block or opt out of being tracked under suspicion.
    dbolandercornchipwatto_cobra
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