from the broken-and-profitable dept
We’ve covered for a while how consumer location data is consistently abused by telecom providers, app makers, stalkers, debt collectors, people pretending to be law enforcement, and pretty much any idiot with a nickel and a dream.
Of course that also extends to government agencies like the IRS, CBP, and ICE, which have increasingly been buying access to your daily location habits so they can skirt around pesky warrants. The government still needs a warrant if it targets individuals, but nothing stops the government from hoovering up vast swaths of movement data en masse. Until now.
A new bill backed by Senators Ron Wyden and Rand Paul, and Reps. Jerry Nadler and Zoe Lofgren, attempts to put this loophole to bed permanently. Bluntly dubbed the Fourth Amendment Is Not For Sale Act (see: summary or full text), the law would ban law enforcement agencies from buying data from controversial facial recognition firm Clearview AI, as well as force agencies to obtain a warrant before sourcing location data from brokers. In a statement, Wyden said the bill would close loopholes in both the Electronic Communications Privacy Act and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that allows governments to buy consumer location data without a warrant:
“Doing business online doesn?t amount to giving the government permission to track your every movement or rifle through the most personal details of your life,? Wyden said. ?There?s no reason information scavenged by data brokers should be treated differently than the same data held by your phone company or email provider. This bill closes that legal loophole and ensures that the government can?t use its credit card to end-run the Fourth Amendment.”
In other words, government agencies will need to obtain a court order to gather information from third party data brokers instead of just buying it like a private company. The law comes on the heels of a steady parade of reporting showcasing widespread abuse of consumer data by numerous government agencies:
“In February last year, The Wall Street Journal reported that a company called Venntel was selling location data harvested from apps to Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Border Protection. Motherboard then found more sales to CBP, and reported on which specific apps provide data to Venntel. Motherboard also found how multiple software development kits (SDKs)?the bundles of code that collect location data?gathered information from apps marketed towards Muslims. This included Predicio, which was connected to Venntel?s data supply chain. Google banned Predicio from the Play Store after Motherboard’s reporting. Google and Apple also banned another SDK called X-Mode from its app stores after one of Motherboard?s investigations.”
While the bill has the support of a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers and many consumer and digital activism groups, getting the proposal through Congress will, of course, be a steep uphill climb. When you have a large coalition of powerful cross-industry lobbyists and numerous government agencies all happily crowded around a very broken trough, any incentive for genuine reform remains, well, muted at best.