ACLU Lawsuit: DHS Uses Phone Apps to Track People in US, Mexico & More – Deseret News | Hot Mobile Press

A report released Monday by the ACLU details a comprehensive Department of Homeland Security surveillance program that can access billions of location points on hundreds of millions of personal cell phones.

The million-dollar scheme, which began under the Trump administration and continued under Biden, was first reported by the Wall Street Journal in 2020 and then the subject of an ongoing ACLU lawsuit.

Thousands of pages of documents were released Monday, shedding new light on a program the ACLU calls “shady,” “a massive invasion of privacy” and an attempt by the government “to get around Fourth Amendment warrant requirements.” to shop around”.

“Residents of Utah were almost certainly included in the database, but because some data was either redacted or not handed over as part of the record request, Utah did not appear in the thousands of pages of records,” said Lyla Mahmoud, legislative and policy adviser for ACLU of Utah, the Deseret News said in a statement.

Billions of locations, millions of smartphones

At the heart of the program are two data brokers, Venntel and Babel Street, which, in documents obtained by the ACLU, claimed to be able to automatically compile 15 billion location points from over 250 million cell phones every day.

For comparison, according to census data, there are around 258 million adults living in the United States.

Emails highlighted in the report suggest the program was designed to track “patterns of illegal immigration,” although information on thousands, possibly millions, of US citizens was also compiled.

In just three days, U.S. Customs and Border Protection alone collected data from more than 113,000 locations in the Southwest without receiving a warrant, at a rate of 26 data points per minute.

Documents obtained by the ACLU indicate a concentrated effort to monitor cities in the Southwest, particularly Phoenix and Los Angeles, although the organization notes that only a “small subset” — 336,000 location points from 2018 — is currently available.

And from New York City to Menominee, Michigan, a town of about 9,000, the program appears to be statewide.

Data was also collected from Canada and Mexico, including Toronto and Mexico City, the largest cities in each country. Even location points from Amsterdam and Bucharest appeared in the thousands of document pages.

“We continue to see privacy issues affecting various aspects of government involvement in our lives, such as: B. Law enforcement agencies like DHS, who use our own data to monitor us. Although the report does not identify specific individuals whose information was in dispute, mass surveillance tactics affect us all,” Mahmoud said.

What is the information used for?

The data can be used to “identify devices observed in places of interest” and “repeat visitors, identify frequently visited locations, locate known operatives, and discover life patterns,” according to Venntel documents.

In turn, investigators at DHS — an umbrella that includes U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Secret Service, and the Coast Guard — have a vast body of data that allows them to investigate not just individuals, but anyone identify and track in a specific area.

In a bid to avoid legal action, both Venntel and Babel Street say the location information is “digital fumes.” The data does not include personally identifying information because it is a phone number and not the individual’s name, the companies claim, “although the entire purpose of this data is to identify and track individuals,” the ACLU said in a press release .

The companies also say users voluntarily share location data if they agree to the terms and services of various smartphone apps, which often include clauses allowing the sale of personally identifiable information. The ACLU says “the consent is a fiction”.

“Many cellphone users are unaware of how many apps on their phones collect GPS information, and certainly don’t expect that data to be sold to the government in bulk,” the organization said.

On Tuesday, the Utah ACLU again called on both state and state lawmakers to roll back widespread surveillance campaigns.

“More than once, Utah has led the way in passing state legislation to protect our privacy rights, and we look to legislators to continue those efforts,” Mahmoud said. “At the federal level, people can support efforts to pass legislation like the Fourth Amendment is Not For Sale Act. This gives the people of Utah an opportunity to protect us and our communities from this type of surveillance.”

The news follows a Georgetown report in May that found that Immigration and Customs Enforcement used facial recognition technology to collect driver’s license information, track drivers’ movements in major U.S. cities and compile utility records for millions of Americans to to enable this to pull detailed dossiers on almost anyone, seemingly at any time.”

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