For years, people have wondered not about, but how much, it The Department of Homeland Security will have access to mobile location data to monitor U.S. citizens. This week, the American Civil Liberties Union released thousands of heavily edited pages of documents giving a “glimpse” of how DHS agencies came to exploit “a shocking amount” of location data, and apparently purchased data without following proper protocols to ensure they had the authority to do so.
Documents shared with ACLU “over the past year through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit.“Then Politico gained access and published a report confirms that DHS has contracted with two monitoring companies, Babel Street and Venntel, to search hundreds of millions of mobile phones from 2017 to 2019 and gain access to “more than 336,000 location data points across North America.” The collection of emails, contracts, spreadsheets and presentation slides provides evidence that “the Trump administration’s immigration enforcers used mobile location data to track people’s movements on a larger scale than previously known,” and practice continues under Biden due to a contract , which expired only in 2021.
Most of the new information describes a comprehensive contract that DHS has entered into with Venntel, a data broker that says it sells mobile location data to solve “the world’s most challenging problems.” In documents, the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol said Venntel’s location data helped them improve immigration enforcement and human trafficking and drug investigations.
That ACLU still describes practice as “shady”, saying that DHS agencies still owed them several documents that would further show how they “circumvent” the “fourth right of amendment against unfair government investigations and seizures by buying access to and using huge amounts of people’s cells” the phone’s location information that is quiet and quietly extracted from smartphone apps. ” Of particular concern, the ACLU also noted that an email from DHS’s senior director of privacy compliance confirmed that DHS “appeared to have purchased access to Venntel, even though a required Privacy Threshold Assessment was never approved.”
DHS did not comment on the Politico story, and neither DHS agencies mentioned nor responded immediately to Ars’ request for comment.
The ACLU says no laws currently prevent data sales to the government, but that may soon change. The ACLU approves a bill called Fourth amendment is not for sale law, which is designed to do just that. Even if that bill is passed, however, the new law will still provide some exceptions that will allow public authorities to continue tracking mobile location data. The ACLU did not immediately respond to comment on any concerns about these exceptions.
To stop tracking location data
The most important issue being discussed is whether a Supreme Court decision in 2017, the said police must have a ruling that search mobile phone data applies to public authorities like DHS. It is a gray zone Because, says the Congressional Research Service, “the Supreme Court has long recognized that the government can conduct routine inspections and searches of persons entering the U.S. border without a ruling,” and that “some federal courts have used the” border search exception “to allow relatively limited , manual searches on the frontier of electronic devices such as computers and mobile phones. “
However, DHS is not the only government agency that considers itself an exception. In 2021, The Defense Intelligence Service also purchased location data without an orderthat circumvents the 2017 Supreme Court decision because the Department of Defense has its own “Attorney General-approved data handling requirements.”