The American Civil Liberties Union plans to fight newly revealed practices by the Department of Homeland Security which used commercially available cell phone location data to track suspected illegal immigrants.
“DHS should not be accessing our location information without a warrant, regardless whether they obtain it by paying or for free. The failure to get a warrant undermines Supreme Court precedent establishing that the government must demonstrate probable cause to a judge before getting some of our most sensitive information, especially our cell phone location history,” said Nathan Freed Wessler, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project.
Earlier today, The Wall Street Journal reported that Homeland Security, through its Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agencies, was buying geolocation data from commercial entities to investigate suspects of alleged immigration violations.
The location data, which aggregators acquire from cellphone apps, including games, weather, shopping and search services, is being used by Homeland Security to detect undocumented immigrants and others entering the U.S. unlawfully, the Journal reported.
According to privacy experts interviewed by the Journal, because the data is publicly available for purchase, the government practices don’t appear to violate the law — despite being what may be the largest dragnet ever conducted by the U.S. government using the aggregated data of its citizens.
It’s also an example of how the commercial surveillance apparatus put in place by private corporations in Democratic societies can be legally accessed by state agencies to create the same kind of surveillance networks used in more authoritarian countries like China, India and Russia.
“This is a classic situation where creeping commercial surveillance in the private sector is now bleeding directly over into government,” Alan Butler, general counsel of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a think tank that pushes for stronger privacy laws, told the newspaper.