ICE, CBP, Secret Service All Illegally Used Smartphone Location Data

A bombshell government report also found that a CBP official used the data to track coworkers with no investigative purpose.
Text of the report over a photo of traffic.
Image: 404 Media and Unsplash.

In a bombshell report, an oversight body for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) found that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Customs and Border Enforcement (CBP), and the Secret Service all broke the law while using location data harvested from ordinary apps installed on smartphones. In one instance, a CBP official also inappropriately used the technology to track the location of coworkers with no investigative purpose.

For years U.S. government agencies have been buying access to location data through commercial vendors, a practice which critics say skirts the Fourth Amendment requirement of a warrant. During that time, the agencies have typically refused to publicly explain the legal basis on which they based their purchase and use of the data. Now, the report shows that three of the main customers of commercial location data broke the law while doing so, and didn’t have any supervisory review to ensure proper use of the technology. The report also recommends that ICE stop all use of such data until it obtains the necessary approvals, a request that ICE has refused.

“It is disturbing that these agencies blithely ignored the federal law that requires serious assessment of the privacy impacts of exactly this kind of access to people’s private information. If these agencies had gone through the appropriate process before buying this sensitive data, they could have only reached one reasonable conclusion: the privacy impact is extreme," Nate Wessler, deputy project director of the Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), told 404 Media in a statement.