DOJ Wants Apple, Google To Hand Over Names And Phone Numbers Of 10,000 App Users

from the government-still-in-the-pointless-acquisition-business dept

Let’s hope this isn’t the only scope discussed by the court handling this case, detailed here by Thomas Brewster of Forbes.

[T]he government wants Apple and Google to hand over names, phone numbers and other identifying data of at least 10,000 users of a single gun scope app, Forbes has discovered. It’s an unprecedented move: Never before has a case been disclosed in which American investigators demanded personal data of users of a single app from Apple and Google. And never has an order been made public where the feds have asked the Silicon Valley giants for info on so many thousands of people in one go.

Well, “made public” might be overstating things. The DOJ did not want this made public but the document it wanted sealed made it to the public docket briefly before being disappeared by the court system. It targets users of the Obsidian 4 app, which controls rifle scopes made by American Technologies Network Corp.

What the government claims this is about barely seems connected to what it’s asking for.

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) department is seeking information as part of a broad investigation into possible breaches of weapons export regulations. It’s looking into illegal exports of ATN’s scope, though the company itself isn’t under investigation, according to the order. As part of that, investigators are looking for a quick way to find out where the app is in use, as that will likely indicate where the hardware has been shipped.

Acquiring the data of thousands of innocent app users isn’t going to benefit government investigators in any great way. Sifting through tons of garbage data doesn’t make anyone’s job any easier. What it will do is give the government a lot of information on people not suspected of engaging in criminal acts — data it can hold onto indefinitely if no one’s paying attention.

And it’s a lot of information. The DOJ is seeking phone numbers and names linked to accounts that have downloaded the app. It also wants data on when users used the app. All this in furtherance of an investigation that doesn’t seem to contain much investigating at this point.

It’s unclear just whom ICE is investigating. No public charges have been filed related to the company or resellers of its weapons tools.

With this data grab, the government will have a chance to explore its options. If investigating weapon manufacturers isn’t proving fruitful, maybe someone else in the 10,000+ pool of “suspects” will prove to be a more interesting target. The government isn’t above fishing for criminal activity when performing supposedly-targeted searches. And if it wanders too far afield from its original aim, it can always argue the “fish” at the end of its 10,000 lines would have been “inevitably discovered” during the course of its fishing expedition.

Unfortunately, we don’t know (yet) whether this ridiculous data request was granted. If a judge somehow managed to sign off on this, there’s a good chance it will be rethought once Google or Apple tell the government they’re not going to be handing over massive amounts of data the government hasn’t shown it needs, much less has earned access to.

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Companies: american technologies network corp., apple, atn, google

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Comments on “DOJ Wants Apple, Google To Hand Over Names And Phone Numbers Of 10,000 App Users”

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27 Comments
aerinai (profile) says:

Export Controls Sounds Like a Pretty Simple Request...

So, if they government is worried about export controls, why not just request any users that have used the app within the boundaries of the export control?

Seems like that would be an easier way to ask for what they want’ without the collateral damage. Not saying that there isn’t valid reasons for innocent people to have a firearm there (a foreign national hunting in a arms restricted country, etc)

But my guess is that is just a ruse for something else. Oh how little we trust our government institutions these days. More than likely it is compiling an unconstitutional ‘secret’ list like the TSA, DHS, and countless other Acronymed Agencies are so fond of…

Michael (profile) says:

Re: Re: And the haystack gets bigger

No, Google Play lists 42 similar apps that we have not seen an accidentally disclosed records request document for.

It could be they targeted a single app for a specific reason, or it could be they have this same request for all 43 apps and the court just didn’t accidentally disclose the requests for any of the others.

Wothe (profile) says:

Apples AppStore protocols are geo based.

It is a BS expedition to build a list of scope (aka gun) owners. Having travelled beyond US borders and attempting to use the Appstore —- doesn’t work — not even trying a US Server VPN.

Even if Apple could/would violate its implied security customer contract — the US population inclusion does NOT jive with the "Illegal export" reason for the request.

TRX (profile) says:

Google and Apple are in the BUSINESS of selling that very information. The only difference is, the Fed wants it for free. But if $RANDOM_NUTTER_CO met the price, Google and Apple would provide it without a problem… as they do to thousands of other marketing companies.

There’s NO expectation of privacy with anything you do with a smartphone. Even if it’s laying there turned "off" on the table.

Yes, I know I'm commenting anonymously says:

You know, those ` ranges’ for NSLs that Google and Apple have to use in their transparency reports? Since ICE claims this is a "broad investigation" "to find out where the app is in use", it seems a list of the states where the app is downloaded should be an appropriate response.
That the list will have about fifty entries is nicely precisely as useful as those transparency-ranges.
And yes, I know this is really unhelpful on all sides but Schadenfreude always is.

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