Senators push for reform of police cell phone tracking tools

NEW YORK (Associated Press) – Civil rights lawyers and Democratic senators are pushing for legislation that would limit the ability of US law enforcement agencies to purchase cellphone tracking tools to track people’s whereabouts, including past years, sometimes without a search warrant.

Concerns have been raised about the police’s use of a tool known as “fog detector” in Investigation by The Associated Press Published earlier this month also appeared at a Federal Trade Commission hearing three weeks ago. Police agencies use the platform to search hundreds of billions of records collected from 250 million mobile devices, and collect people’s geolocation data to compile so-called “lifestyles,” according to thousands of pages of records about the company.

Fog Reveal, which was sold by Virginia-based Fog Data Science LLC, has been used since at least 2018 in criminal investigations ranging from the murder of an Arkansas nurse to tracking the movements of a potential participant in the January 6 rebellion at the Capitol. The tool is rarely, if ever, mentioned in court records, something defense attorneys say makes it difficult for them to properly defend their clients in cases where the technology has been used.

“Americans are increasingly realizing that their privacy is evaporating before their eyes, and that the real-world effects can be devastating. Today, companies we’ve all heard about as well as companies we don’t fully realize are gathering a wealth of data about Where we go, what we do, and who we are.”

Committee members and members of the public who participated in the FTC session raised concerns about how data generated by popular apps could be used for surveillance purposes, or “in some cases, it is used to infer identity and cause direct harm to people in the real world,” said Stacey Gray, senior US program director. for the Future of Privacy Forum, “as previously mentioned, for law enforcement and national security purposes.”

The FTC declined to comment specifically about Fog Reveal.

Matthew Broderick, Fog’s managing partner, told the AP that local law enforcement has been on the front lines of trafficking and missing persons issues, but it often falls behind in embracing the technology.

“We are filling a gap in underfunded and understaffed departments,” he said in an email, adding that the company does not have access to people’s personal information, nor does it require search warrants. The company declined to share information about how many police agencies it works with.

Fog Reveal was developed by two former senior officials of the Department of Homeland Security under former President George W. Bush. It relies on advertising identification numbers, which Fog officials say are culled from popular mobile apps like Waze, Starbucks and hundreds of others that target ads based on a person’s movements and interests, according to police emails. This information is then sold to companies like Fog.

Federal oversight of companies like Fog is an evolving legal landscape. Last month, the Federal Trade Commission sued a data broker called Kochava, which, like Fog, provides its customers with advertising identifiers that authorities say can easily be used to find where a mobile device user lives, in violation of rules imposed by the commission. Senator Ron Wyden has introduced a bill before Congress that seeks to regulate the way government agencies can obtain data from data brokers and other private companies, at a time when privacy advocates are concerned that location tracking could be put to other new uses, such as monitoring people seeking to… Abortions in states where it is now illegal.

“It wasn’t that long ago that it took high-tech equipment or a dedicated set of clients to track a person’s movements around the clock. Now, it only takes a few thousand dollars and getting ready to sleep with shady data brokers,” said Wyden, an Oregon Democrat. . “It is a shame that data brokers are selling disaggregated location data to law enforcement agencies across the country — including in states that have made personal reproductive health decisions for serious crimes.”

Because of the secrecy surrounding Fog, there are few details about its use. Most law enforcement agencies won’t discuss it, raising concerns among privacy advocates that it violates the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which protects against unreasonable searches and seizures.

Former Virginia Republican Representative Bob Goodlatt, who previously served as chief justice in the US House of Representatives, said advocates on both sides of the aisle should be concerned about unrestricted government use of Fog Reveal.

“Fog Reveal is an easily anonymous tracking of Americans’ daily movements and location history. Where we go can say a lot about who we are, who we are associated with, and even what we believe in,” said Goodlatt, who now serves as a senior policy advisor with the Privacy and Accountability Surveillance Project. Or how we worship.” The current political climate means that this technology can be used against people from the left, right and center. Everyone has an interest in curbing this technology.”

The New York Police Department used Fog Reveal at the crime scene in real time in 2018 and 2019, a previously undisclosed relationship confirmed by public records. In an emailed statement, a police spokesperson said the NYPD used Fog on a trial basis, “in order to develop leads for criminal investigations and life-saving operations such as missing persons.” The department did not say whether it was successful in either scenario.

Two nonprofit organizations that have supported privacy rights issues in New York City said the tool tapped into consumers’ personal data and was “ready for abuse,” according to Surveillance Technology Watch Project Executive Director Albert Fox Kahn.

“The lack of any meaningful regulation on the collection and sale of app data is a consumer and privacy crisis,” Benjamin Berger, an attorney for Legal Aid Society employees, wrote in a recent post. “Both the federal and state governments need to develop policies that will protect consumer data.”


Burke reported from San Francisco.


This story, supported by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, is part of the Associated Press’s ongoing series, “Tracked,” which examines the power and consequences of algorithm-driven decisions on people’s daily lives.


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