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DHS tracking smartphone users

The DHS has been in the center of attention when
it comes to user tracing without their knowledge.
Now it’s official that the DHS uses databases with
data of millions of smartphone users to track them.

Although the DHS always denies the existence of such databases or their extent use they still do so despite a court ruling that is intended to limit their power to do that.

The data has reportedly been used for border and immigration enforcement, and there is some evidence to suggest that the DHS has not wanted to admit to having access to it…

The Wall Street Journal has reported the following:

The Trump administration has bought access to a commercial database that maps the movements of millions of cellphones in America and is using it for immigration and border enforcement, according to people familiar with the matter and documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

The location data is drawn from ordinary cellphone apps, including those for games, weather and e-commerce, for which the user has granted permission to log the phone’s location.

The Department of Homeland Security has used the information to detect undocumented immigrants and others who may be entering the U.S. unlawfully, according to these people and documents.

The data used for tracking can be from one of the sources of 40 companies that collect data from various apps where the user has to confirm access to several types of tracking data.

Although these companies claim the data to be anonymized, it’s still possible to identify the user using an unique ID of the dataset record. If there’s no such unique ID, then the combination of home and office location could allow the identification of the person generating this data pair.

A court ruling in 2018 limited the powers of the US government to obtain location data from phone companies, but the Wall Street Journal suggests that purchasing it from commercial companies is being used as a way around the law.

Because location data is available through numerous commercial ad exchanges, government lawyers have approved the programs and concluded that the Carpenter ruling doesn’t apply.

“In this case, the government is a commercial purchaser like anybody else. Carpenter is not relevant,” said Paul Rosenzweig, a former DHS official who is a resident senior fellow at the R Street Institute, a conservative and libertarian think tank that promotes free markets. “The government is just buying a widget.”

The DHS however did not deny to have bought access to various data sources but on the other hand did not say how they have used the data obtained. The Wall Street Journal thus comes to the conclusion that this data might have been used to track users during cross-border movement or when being in unusual locations, such as wide plains or stretches of desert.

The following video (if Wall Street Journal URL/video above is no longer available) is from Wall Street Journal explaining in detail how your data is monetarized and used for various purposes (including tracking and tracing!):

Once more this shows clearly how important the GDPR (in Europe called DSGVO) is and how strong it’s laws should be enforced to prevent misuse of your data. But as long as there are only mild punishments are spoken, the misuse of data won’t stop.


February 8, 2020 Netspark - 1589 posts - Member since: May 9th, 2011 No Comments »

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