DHS Paid Millions of Dollars for Cell Phone Location Data to Track Americans

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has been buying location data of millions of cellphone users from third party players. According to documents released by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on July 18, the DHS is buying this data without any warrants to track movements of civilians.

“The released records shine a light on the millions of taxpayer dollars DHS used to buy access to cell phone location information being aggregated and sold by two shadowy data brokers, Venntel and Babel Street,” the report read.

The documents show that this vast amount of location data of people are being purchased by various DHS agencies, including the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) without any judicial oversight, to track people’s movements and use it for “unreasonable government searches and seizures.” Further The data, purchased by the DHS, allowed law enforcement to identify devices & locations at “places of interest,” and to obtain information about frequent visitors, discover patterns of life and collect other important details, as well as track specific individuals or everyone in a particular area.

The records, running into thousands of pages – 6,168 to be precise — contain more than 336,000 location points across North America that had been obtained from people’s smartphones. 

The documents obtained by ACLU over the past year reveals that the bulk of the data came from two companies – Venntel, a location intelligence company headquartered in Washington, DC, and Babel Street, a Virgina-based AI company.

The documents also reveal in detail that not only were the federal agencies aware of what they were doing but also made efforts to rationalize those actions, or even hide them. For instance, the records claimed that the data was “opt-in” and “voluntarily shared ” by users, and that it is collected with consent of the app user and “permission of the individual.”

“By searching through this massive trove of location information at their whim, government investigators can identify and track specific individuals or everyone in a particular area, learning details of our private activities and associations,” noted the ACLU.

Sources : Sputnik News

Geospatialworld.net

Privacy Advocates Celebrate “Big Win” Against Facial Recognition Giant Clearview A.I.

A historic settlement filed in court on Monday highlighted the power of Illinois’ strong privacy law and will result in new nationwide restrictions on a controversial technology company infamous for selling access to the largest known database of facial images.

The deal permanently banning Clearview AI from providing most private entities with free or paid access to its database stems from a lawsuit that the ACLU and partners filed in 2020, arguing that the company violated Illinois’ Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA).

In addition to permanently banning Clearview from granting private companies and individuals access to the database, the settlement has some state-specific limits. For the next five years, Clearview can’t allow private companies with exceptions under BIPA or state or local government entities in Illinois, including law enforcement, access to the database.

One key exception is that, Clearview will still be able to provide its database to U.S. banks and financial institutions under a carve-out in the Illinois law.

Hoan Ton-That, chief executive of Clearview AI, said the company did “not have plans” to provide the database “to entities besides government agencies at this time.” The settlement does not mean that Clearview cannot sell any product to corporations. It will still be able to sell its facial recognition algorithm, without the database of 20 billion images, to companies.

Nathan Freed Wessler, a deputy director of the ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, said that

By requiring Clearview to comply with Illinois’ pathbreaking biometric privacy law not just in the state, but across the country, this settlement demonstrates that strong privacy laws can provide real protections against abuse.”

“Clearview can no longer treat people’s unique biometric identifiers as an unrestricted source of profit,” he said. “Other companies would be wise to take note, and other states should follow Illinois’ lead in enacting strong biometric privacy laws.”

Surveillance Technology Oversight Project executive director Albert Fox Cahn stated “this is a milestone for civil rights, and the ACLU deserves our thanks for once again safeguarding our Constitution.”

Banning Clearview AI in one state is not enough; we need a national ban,” Fox Cahn asserted. “Illinois has long been ahead of the curve in protecting residents from biometric surveillance, but it’s time for the rest of the country to catch up.”

Via: Common Dreams