FBI Latest To Admit To Bypassing Warrant Requirements By Purchasing Location Info From Data Brokers

from the do-whatever-the-fuck dept

Well… fuck the Supreme Court, I guess.

That’s how law enforcement is working these days, bypassing the restraints of the Carpenter decision to do what they want, when they want, with whatever location data they can purchase from private third-party brokers.

It’s the “third party” that counts. It’s also the narrower aspects of the Supreme Court’s Carpenter decision, which limited the warrant requirement to obtaining “long term” (not specifically defined in the decision) location data from cell service providers.

The implications of the decision suggested finding alternate routes for long-term tracking of US citizens via cell phone location data was off limits without a warrant. But specificity matters and this decision just didn’t have it. Thanks to the limitations of this ruling, federal agencies are violating the spirit of the decision en masse because the justices failed to consider the existence of third-party data brokers which hoover up location data from popular apps and sell access to this data to whoever wants it: advertisers, marketers, CBP, ICE, the US Secret Service, the IRS, state prisons, etc.

The latest to admit to bypassing the implications of Supreme Court precedent is (to the surprise of nobody) the FBI. And that revelation comes from an expected source: Senator Ron Wyden, who has always made a point of staying on top of rights violations and government surveillance overreach. This is from Dell Cameron’s latest article for Wired, which covers the FBI’s admission it has joined its fed counterparts in paying private companies to access to massive amounts of location data.

The disclosure came today during a US Senate hearing on global threats attended by five of the nation’s intelligence chiefs. Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, put the question of the bureau’s use of commercial data to its director, Christopher Wray: “Does the FBI purchase US phone-geolocation information?” Wray said his agency was not currently doing so, but he acknowledged that it had in the past. He also limited his response to data companies gathered specifically for advertising purposes. 

FBI Director Wray offered more details, albeit not actual details contained in actual FBI paperwork. BUT DETAILS NONETHELESS!

“To my knowledge, we do not currently purchase commercial database information that includes location data derived from internet advertising,” Wray said. “I understand that we previously—as in the past—purchased some such information for a specific national security pilot project. But that’s not been active for some time.” He added that the bureau now relies on a “court-authorized process” to obtain location data from companies. 

Well, then I assume the FBI will be presenting the paper trail for this “court-authorized process” immediately. And it will presumably be presenting Senator Wyden (and the general public by extension) with contractual information about its past purchases and its termination of said contracts in the near future.

Look, I know I sound patently ridiculous. But the FBI director swore before God and country the g-men were on the up and up. What better way to demonstrate that then by… you know… actually demonstrating that.

Without supporting documentation, all we have are Chris Wray’s (untrustworthy) words that the FBI may have misbehaved in the past but is all good and constitutional at this particular point in its timeline. And if there’s anything the FBI has demonstrated over the years, it’s that when it says everything is above-board, everything absolutely isn’t.

The FBI is known for backdoor searches of NSA collections, encouraging civil rights leaders to kill themselves, engaging in massive amounts of domestic surveillance abuse, and refusing — for years now — to address cell phone encryption with anything approaching good faith or honesty. For it to claim its abuses are behind it when it comes to patronizing data brokers, the FBI should absolutely not be trusted until it can publicly demonstrate — with supporting documents — that it can be. Until we hear otherwise, assume the FBI is still doing the thing it just told Senator Ron Wyden it isn’t doing.

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Comments on “FBI Latest To Admit To Bypassing Warrant Requirements By Purchasing Location Info From Data Brokers”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Anonymous Coward says:

Then you use a jammer to jam wireless data signals

Jamming data does not violate FCC rules

Just like one family that has problems with one of their children stealing packages from other people’s porches.

They have a jammer on the property to foul up any gps tracking on the packages so the parents can deep six the evidence

While they are likely committing obstruction of justice under Utah law they are not breaking any FCC rules having that jammer in their property.

Their home is well off the road on a big property so the jamming signal will almost certainly never reach the nearby road.

If the signal does not leave their property it does not break FCC rules.

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