Iowa Air Guard Unit Involved In Overseas Drone Strikes Is Buying Location Data From Data Brokers

from the whatever-facilitates-forever-wars dept

Killing people using metadata is boring. These days, we’re killing people using data brokers.

A division of the Iowa Air National Guard that carries out overseas intelligence missions, performs reconnaissance, and conducts strikes with Reaper drones recently bought access to location data harvested from ordinary apps installed on peoples’ smartphones, Motherboard has found. The tool, called Locate X, lets users search by a specific area and see which devices were present in that location at a particular point in time.

Supposedly this data is anonymized but sources familiar with the data — pulled from popular apps like Muslim Pro, which has been dowloaded nearly 100 million times — said it doesn’t take much effort to deanonymize it. Obviously, using anonymized data to locate targets for extrajudicial killings would be incredibly irresponsible, so this guard unit’s use presumably involved sniffing out the users behind the data to prevent targeting innocent foreigners. (Presumably.)

The National Guard has declined to say what it used the data for. But given it’s tasked with overseas surveillance and drone strikes, the best case scenario is that it conducted surveillance, rather than killings, using the data. This particular Air Guard used to fly actual airplanes, but gave that up for the more efficient practice of killing people overseas while never having to leave the comfort of the American Midwest.

According to public procurement records, the Iowa Air National Guard has purchased a “premium data feed” from Locate X, something that runs it $35,000 a year.

The facts seen in the public records are indeed factual. That’s about the only thing the Air National Guard is willing to confirm.

“The Iowa National Guard did request the purchase of the software Locate X,” Major Katherine Headley, director of public affairs at the Iowa National Guard, told Motherboard in an email. Headley declined to say exactly how the Iowa Air National Guard will use the data.

Joseph Cox’s report for Vice notes the Air Guard helped man COVID-19 test sites and was involved in contact tracing efforts. If that’s what the Air Guard used its Locate X contract to facilitate, you’d think it would have gladly admitted it was part of the local fight against the spread of the virus. Instead, it has effectively pleaded the government version of the Fifth, refusing to discuss details while confirming nothing more than what cannot possibly be denied.

Then there’s this, which strongly suggests its use of Locate X had nothing to do with any non-warfighting efforts:

“This product will be used to support our federal mission requirements overseas.”

And since part of its “federal mission requirements” involves operating armed Reaper drones, it’s not irresponsible to assume the purchased data has been used to carry out drone strikes, which turns “harmless” app location data into targeting data for our apparently never-ending, extrajudicial killing programs.

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Companies: locate x

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Comments on “Iowa Air Guard Unit Involved In Overseas Drone Strikes Is Buying Location Data From Data Brokers”

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John Eight Thirty-Two says:

not to worry!

The concerns expressed in this piece are understandable, but incorrect. The IANG used the Locate X data not to target drone strikes, but to identify individuals for surveillance. The surveillance was conducted by means of drones. The drone surveillance was used to target drone strikes.

I’m glad I was able to clear up this misunderstanding.

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