Did the Government Just Break the Law By Spying on You?

Records raise new concerns about government workers’ attempts to get around prohibitions on illegal access and reveal immigration authorities tracked people’s travels on a wide scale.

The Data

According to the records, the Department of Homeland Security was able to get information on more than 336,000 location information bits across North America, thanks to data gathered from applications on tens of millions of smartphones.

The country’s main cities, notably Los Angeles, Denver, New York, Chicago, Toronto, as well as Mexico City, provided the data points for this study.

Through a 2020 suit, the American Civil Rights Union was able to get the documents from DHS. It gave Politico access to the records and separately made them available to the public on Monday.

The records include correspondence and agreements between the federal government and the monitoring firms, Babel Street and Venntel. Additionally, they depict agency employees discussing privacy issues related to the use of phone location data internally.

According to the records, the CBP illegally gathered data from cellphones in the Southwest of the United States from more than 113,000 places in just three days in 2018; that is, over 26 data points every minute.

The records emphasize the enormous volume of location data that governmental agencies, such as CBP and ICE, acquired and how the organizations aimed to benefit from the gold mine of information held by the mobile advertising sector.

According to Shreya Tewari, the Brennan scholar for the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project, “It was obviously a stunning quantity.”

It was a really thorough illustration of their ability to focus on not only a certain geographic region, but also a time frame, how much they’re gathering, and how rapidly.

Money is to be Made

There are hundreds of applications that gather location data, marketing companies that exchange this information, and purchasers who want to utilize data for things like advertising and police officers.

The location data market is estimated to be worth $12 billion.

Location data sales went mostly unregulated for the past ten years, allowing data brokers to sell the whereabouts of millions of individuals to anyone who is interested.

Location data, which included information on visitors to Planned Parenthood, has already been sold to the U.S. military to aid in the identification of Muslim communities. In 2021, a blog also revealed a gay priest using GPS information.

The Wall Street Journal reported in 2020 that business location data was being used for immigration enforcement by government agencies like DHS, ICE, and CBP.

The records that the ACLU made public on Monday provide some insight into how much location data these organizations collected and how they intended to use it.

In an email sent in March 2018, a CBP representative stated that Venntel “has a mobile location information analytics platform that uses the unclassified, commercially accessible mobile advertising environment.”

This article appeared in Conservative Cardinal and has been published here with permission.