Saturday, November 26, 2022

Senators push for improvements to police’s cellphone tracking tools

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NEW YORK (TN) — 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 in previous years, and Sometimes without a search warrant.

Concerns about police use of a tool called “fog reveal” raised in an investigation by the Today Nation News Published earlier this month three weeks ago also surfaced at a Federal Trade Commission hearing. Police agencies are using the platform to search hundreds of billions of records collected from 250 million mobile devices, and to collect so-called “patterns of life,” according to thousands of pages of records about the company. Hoovers people’s geolocation data.

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

“Americans are increasingly aware that their privacy is fading before their very eyes, and the real-world implications could be catastrophic. Today, the companies we’ve all heard about, as well as the companies we Completely unaware, they are collecting data about where we go, what we do and who we are,” said Sen. Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat.

Panelists and members of the public who participated in the FTC hearings also raised concerns about how data generated by popular apps is used for surveillance purposes, or “in some cases, to infer identities and access people in the real world.” , in the physical world and as previously noted, are being repurposed for law enforcement and national security purposes,” said Stacey Gray, for the Future of Privacy Forum A senior director of American programs.

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The FTC declined to comment specifically about the fog reveal.

Fogg managing partner Matthew Broderick told the TN that local law enforcement was on the front lines of trafficking and missing persons cases, but often lags behind in adopting the technology.

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“We fill a gap for departments with fewer and fewer employees,” he said in an email, adding that the company does not have access to people’s personal information, nor requires a search warrant. The company declined to share information about how many police agencies it works with.

Fog Reveal was developed by two former high-ranking officials in the Department of Homeland Security under former President George W. It relies on ad identification numbers, which Fog officials say are sourced from popular cellphone apps like Waze, Starbucks and hundreds of others that target ads based on a person’s activities and interests, according to police emails. . That information is then sold to companies like Fogg.

Federal oversight of companies like Fogg is an evolving legal landscape. Last month, the Federal Trade Commission sued a data broker called Kochawa that, like Fogg, provided its clients with advertising IDs, which officials say could be used to easily trace where the mobile device user resides, which violates the regulations that the Commission enforces. and a bill introduced by Sen. Ron Wyden that is now before Congress to change 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 novel uses, such as tracking people seeking abortion in states where it is now illegal.

“It was not that long ago that it required high-tech equipment or a dedicated group of agents to track the activities of an individual round the clock. Now, it only takes a few thousand dollars and a desire to go to bed with shady data brokers,” said Wyden, an Oregon Democrat. “It’s an outrage that data brokers sell detailed location data to law enforcement agencies across the country.” – including in states that have made individual reproductive health judgments in serious crimes.”

Due to the secrecy surrounding fog, little is known about its use. Most law enforcement agencies will not discuss it, raising concerns among privacy advocates that it violates the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution, which protects against unreasonable search and seizure.

Advocates on both sides of the aisle should be concerned about unrestricted government use of fog reveal, said Representative Bob Goodlatte, a former Republican from Virginia who previously served as chairman of the US House Judiciary.

“The fog reveal is simply non-anonymous tracking of Americans’ daily movements and location histories. Where we go can say a lot about who we are, who we associate with, and even What we believe in or how we worship,” said Goodlatte, who now works as senior policy advisor for the Project for Privacy and Surveillance Accountability. , can be done against people on the right and center. Everyone has a stake in curbing this technology.”

The New York Police Department used fog reveals at its Real Time Crime Center in 2018 and 2019, an undisclosed connection previously confirmed by public records. A spokesperson said in an emailed statement that the NYPD used the fog on a trial basis, “strictly in the interest of development for life-saving tasks such as criminal investigation and missing persons.” The department did not specify whether it was successful in any of the scenarios.

According to Albert Fox Kahn, executive director of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, two nonprofits that support privacy rights cases in New York City said the tool exploited consumers’ personal data and was “ripe for abuse.”

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


Burke reported from San Francisco.


This story, supported by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, is part of “Tracked,” an ongoing Today Nation News series that examines the power and consequences of algorithm-driven decisions on people’s everyday lives.


Follow Garance Burke and Jason Deeron on Twitter @garanceburke And @jhdearen, Contact TN’s global investigation team at [email protected] or

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