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.

Filed Under: apps, doj, fishing expedition, gun scope, ice, obsidian 4, rifle scopes, weapons export
Companies: american technologies network corp., apple, atn, google


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  • icon
    Toom1275 (profile), 11 Sep 2019 @ 10:48am

    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.

    Because when you're looking for a needle, trucking in more haystacks is definitely the best idea.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Sep 2019 @ 10:59am

    Wouldn't this be an ATF concern? Or is it because the scopes have allegedly been sent out of the country?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 11 Sep 2019 @ 4:31pm

      Re:

      Wouldn't this be an ATF concern?

      First of all, the BATFE should be a convenience store and not a government agency

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 12 Sep 2019 @ 6:35am

      Re:

      They need something like DARPA to handle complex situations like this, perhaps they could call it APPARPA and it would fall under the newly created armed service called Internet Command.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    aerinai (profile), 11 Sep 2019 @ 11:09am

    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...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Max, 11 Sep 2019 @ 11:13am

    And you wonder why I have an instinctive NOPE! reaction to any app requiring creation of an account or handing over personal details of any granularity...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      James Burkhardt (profile), 11 Sep 2019 @ 11:16am

      Re:

      Wouldn't help you here. This is looking for the info on people who downloaded the app from Google Play or the App Store. That transaction record exists regardless of account creation.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 11 Sep 2019 @ 11:58am

        Re: Re:

        Tim calls this "data the government hasn't shown it needs", but doesn't question whether Google and Apple need it. Was this a paid app? If not, there's no "transaction" and they've put users at risk by keeping records unnecessarily.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Sep 2019 @ 11:19am

    Slightly off topic, but why would anyone want to connect a cell phone to a rifle scope .. to stream some really bad shit?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 11 Sep 2019 @ 11:37am

      Re:

      Scopes need to be adjusted via minute changes on a per person, per scope, and per weapon basis. An electronically controlled scope could make far more minute adjustments and potentially save settings based on a combination of factors. And a phone is as good a control mechanism as any.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 11 Sep 2019 @ 5:05pm

        Re: Re:

        Ohhh - so they traded in the manual adj for some electronics that can be used via a cell phone. Hopefully the manual adj is still there.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          mhajicek (profile), 11 Sep 2019 @ 9:23pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          There are complicated tables and calculations for windage and elevation adjustments involving lots of variables. A phone is a handy computer to do all the numbers stuff and send the results to the scope. I'd rather have a dedicated non-networked computer do it though.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    BurningWoodchipper (profile), 11 Sep 2019 @ 11:21am

    And the haystack gets bigger

    Look at the reviews for the app - there are a LOT of people downloading it (and leaving reviews) expressly to junk up the data.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 11 Sep 2019 @ 11:26am

      Re: And the haystack gets bigger

      I find it interesting that Google Play lists 42 similar apps that are not being targeted. Think of the potential haystack losses.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Michael, 11 Sep 2019 @ 11:44am

        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.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Coyne Tibbets (profile), 12 Sep 2019 @ 2:31am

        Re: Re: And the haystack gets bigger

        To be blunt, how do you know this?

        We only found out about this warrant because it was temporarily exposed by the court system. How do you know there weren't other warrants for other apps, or all of those apps?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 11 Sep 2019 @ 12:06pm

      Re: And the haystack gets bigger

      Tis the only reason i installed it.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 12 Sep 2019 @ 2:07am

      Re: And the haystack gets bigger

      Thats because Epic games didn't get an exclusive on the app ;)

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Sep 2019 @ 12:43pm

    Where are the usual police state advocates that show up around here?

    The ones that are generally saying that something like this should happen so that the police have an easier time of finding bad guys?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      nasch (profile), 12 Sep 2019 @ 9:17am

      Re:

      The ones that are generally saying that something like this should happen so that the police have an easier time of finding bad guys?

      Those are the same people who screamed that Obama was coming for their guns, so now they're uncomfortable about the government targeted gun owners.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    JdL (profile), 11 Sep 2019 @ 1:22pm

    Why don't they save time

    ... and just tell every company to turn over personal information of every buyer everywhere? No, that would be heating up the pot too fast. Give 'em a year or so and see if we're not there.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 11 Sep 2019 @ 11:57pm

      Re: Why don't they save time

      At which point, the anti-vaccine fearmongers would have measlesed themselves out of existence.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Wothe (profile), 11 Sep 2019 @ 2:49pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Sep 2019 @ 5:07pm

    Is this app being served a reverse warrant?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    TRX, 11 Sep 2019 @ 5:28pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Yes, I know I'm commenting anonymously, 12 Sep 2019 @ 12:08am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    wormout, 12 Sep 2019 @ 1:39am

    yeah, Face app is also used for "investigations" (like it was said in an article at https://speakerauthority.net/) and for fun. But in fact, nobody really knows where the data goes further and where it can be used. They can say it is safe as many times as they want, but people know...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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