The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has admitted to using a database that tracks millions of smartphone users, defying a previous court ruling. The data has reportedly been used for border and immigration enforcement, and there is some evidence that the Department of Homeland Security does not want to admit access to its …
The Trump administration has purchased a commercial database of activity maps of millions of smartphones in the United States and is using it for immigration and border enforcement, according to sources familiar with the matter. The location data comes from common mobile apps that users are authorized to record the location of their phones, such as games, weather and e-commerce apps, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has used the information to detect illegal immigrants and others who may have entered the U.S. illegally.
While smartphone users do technically grant apps access to their location data, they often do not realize that their data could be sold to up to 40 different companies. In addition, users may be misled by privacy policies that claim to protect anonymity, but the reality is that it is simply not worth mentioning that individual users are identified and tracked under such policies. In most cases, just determining the location of the home and office is enough to identify a person, after all, commuters are always “two-point line.”
Media said there was a case in which law enforcement agencies deliberately concealed their use of the above-mentioned databases. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has used location data to detect whether a mobile phone user has passed through a tunnel built between the U.S. and Mexico by drug dealers, an exit in the U.S. that is located at a closed KFC fried chicken restaurant near St. Louis, Arizona, people familiar with the matter said. The move helped authorities arrest Ivan Lopez, the owner of the defunct KFC restaurant, in 2018 for conspiring to build the tunnel. However, the police record of the incident did not mention that location data showed that he crossed the U.S.-Mexico border at this unusual location, but rather attributed it to the results of routine stop-and-go checks.
A 2018 court ruling limited the U.S. government’s power to obtain location data from phone companies, butmedia noted that buying location data from commercial companies was used as a way to circumvent the law.
The Department of Homeland Security acknowledged that it had purchased a database that tracked millions of smartphones, but declined to say how the department used the information. The data was used to track cross-border movements of people, as well as “mobile phone activity in unusual areas, such as remote desert areas,” the sources said.