Police ‘Mass Surveillance’ Cellphone Tracking Tool Follows Your Movements Months Back in Time Without Search Warrant

Southern California law enforcement have used the tool without a warrant.

QUICK FACTS:
  • 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.
FOG REVEAL’S ORIGINS:
  • The program is sold by Virginia-based Fog Data Science LLC and has been being used since at least 2018 in criminal investigations.
  • Records indicate that the tool is rarely mentioned in court records, which has allegedly made it more difficult for defense attorneys to defend clients on whom the program was used.
  • Fog Reveal was 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.
BACKGROUND:
  • In 2017, the United States Supreme Court was faced with the question of whether law enforcement could track individuals via cellphone location information without a warrant if the information was collected and stored by a wireless provider.
  • Carpenter V. United States was decided in favor of the plaintiff, ruling that government entities are required to get a warrant to access information stored on cell phones for cell phone providers or users by the cell phone company.