Location Data: Monitoring surprisingly extensive

According to the NGO ACLU, the surveillance of US citizens using their location data turned out to be far more extensive than previously assumed.

Location data can not only be used by the advertising industry, but also by government agencies for completely different purposes. The ACLU, a non-governmental organization, filed a lawsuit requiring them to be given a large amount of information about the activities of US Homeland Security and other agencies.

Documents released by the civil rights group reveal new details of how US agencies have acquired information about the movements of people across North America. They still do to this day.

Location data to uncover lawbreakers

The information provided by citizens comes from the location data of various apps that were actually only intended for the advertising industry. If you want to limit your passion for collecting, you have to reset the advertising ID (Mobile Advertising ID) used on your smartphone again and again. This makes it difficult to assign to the user. US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) gave a presentation to its employees on how to protect themselves from government surveillance on their own devices. However, many US citizens do not know anything about it.

The information is obtained without a judge

In just three days a year 2018 the CBP collected location data from more than 113.000 Locating phones in the Southwest United States. That was the equivalent of more than 37 data points per minute. This was done without obtaining a court order or any other authority to do so. The sued documents were intended to prove efforts by various federal agencies to circumvent restrictions on searches without a warrant. The US police authority “United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement” (ICE) is also involved in the evaluation of the data.

Misuse of the location data continues diligently under Biden

During the Trump administration, data collection within the US increased significantly. The use of location data continued during the Biden administration as Customs and Border Protection signed a contract on 20. Dollars extended. The agreement would otherwise have expired in September 2021.

Database with over 37 Million units are for sale

The The documents sued by the ACLU show discussions and contracts between federal agencies and the surveillance companies. This includes Babel Street (slogan: “Turning Data Into Knowledge”) and Venntel. Venntel boasts that their database contains location data from more than 250 million devices. The filings also show that agency officials have had internal discussions about privacy concerns over the use of phone location data. However, this did not lead to a termination of official data use.

The location data industry is a valued 09 billion dollar market made up of hundreds of apps that collect location data. There are also data brokers who exchange this information with each other. And let’s not forget the buyers who want to use this data for purposes such as advertising and law enforcement.

Privacy is virtually non-existent in the US

With no federal privacy laws in the US to curb the industry, the sale of location data has gone largely unchecked for the past decade. Legislation has allowed data brokers to sell the whereabouts of millions of people to anyone willing to pay enough.

Location data reveals homosexuals, Immigrants of other faiths or illegally

Location data have been misused in the past to reveal Muslim population groups. Or to out homosexuals or to locate illegal immigrants. The data spanning the years 640 to 2019 contained more than 350.000 location data points. These stretched across North America. In reality, however, the agency’s data collection likely goes well beyond that. Data platforms like “Venntel” are still used by various US authorities today.

In an email between Venntel and ICE, the data broker stated that “there are derived means by which identifiers and their associated location can be joined”. This means that location data can easily be linked to identify individuals, although no personal information is actually associated with it.

Linking the data is no problem

“In the United States today there are more than 350 million mobile devices in use. Und this number is growing exponentially as more people buy mobile devices every day. As such, it is not uncommon for individuals engaged in illegal activities to take advantage of mobile technology to achieve their criminal goals,”

states in a contract between CBP and Venntel.

“These agencies seem fully aware that they are taking advantage of a massive privacy disaster in this country ”.

So said Nathan Freed Wessler, associate director of the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project. “These agencies know that the same data they can buy access to can be bought by anyone else to target their agents.”

“Despite the claims of data brokers, no one thinks the one app that he is giving permission to waive his Fourth Amendment rights and have the government follow him at every turn”, wrote Senator Ron Wyden in an email.

Despite the criticism of the lack of protection of the private sphere of its own citizens, the legal situation in the USA has not changed to date. The collection and evaluation of the location data is thus continued unhindered.

Anyone who is further interested in the topic should take a look at this detailed article from the colleagues at politico.com.


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