Internet and Cell Phone Data Purchased by Government to Track Americans

Law enforcement is working with third-party data brokers.

QUICK FACTS:
  • Government agencies are gathering internet and cell phone data in partnership with data brokers to track Americans.
  • The tool being used is Fog Reveal, which is through the company Fog Data Science, and it analyzes “billions” of points of data gathered from “over 250 million” devices.
  • One of the latest revelations about this public-private partnership with the data company came from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to “defending civil liberties in the digital world.”
  • Through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, EFF recently acquired a wealth of documents about the acquisition by federal, state, and local police departments of a cellphone tracking device that can track people’s movements back several months.
  • The practice has given rise to questions about potential civil liberties violations that could point out the need for further legislation on the issue.
USAGE OF THE DATA:
  • Law enforcement in Southern California and rural North Carolina were found to have been using an obscure cellphone tracking tool that allows them to follow users’ movements.
  • The tool was used, in some cases, without search warrants, and was used to pull data including about movements dating months back.
  • The tool, called “Fog Reveal” searches hundreds of billions of records from 250 million mobile users and coalesces the data to create local analysis referred to as “patterns of life.”
  • Thousands of records from the company put into public records, as well as internal emails reviewed by journalists, created a picture of potential government overreach into the lives of targets.
BACKGROUND:
  • As American Faith previously reported, Fog Data Science is a Virginia-based company developed by two former high-ranking members of the Department of Homeland Security who worked at the department under former President George W. Bush.
  • The program works by utilizing advertising identification numbers from cell phones and apps such as Waze, Starbucks, and hundreds of other ad-targeting software.
  • “It’s sort of a mass surveillance program on a budget,” said Bennett Cyphers, a special adviser at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital privacy rights advocacy group.