An EFF investigation of public records acquired from dozens of state and local law enforcement agencies has uncovered a widely-used mass surveillance technology. Americans are accustomed to hearing about how the National Security Agency (NSA), the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and even the domestically-focused Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) have illegally swept up massive amounts of data on people living in the United States—but what about the state and local police? Fog Data Science LLC, a previously unknown company, provides law enforcement with easy and often warrantless access to the precise and continuous geolocation of hundreds of millions of unsuspecting Americans, collected through their smartphone apps and then aggregated by shadowy data brokers.
Fog Data Science is a company that purchases raw geolocation data originally collected by applications people use every day on their smartphones and tablets. Those applications gather location data about where your phone is at any given moment and sell it to data brokers, who in turn sell it most often to advertisers or marketers who try to serve you ads based on your location. That’s where Fog swoops in. According to documents created by the company, Fog purchases “billions of data points” from some “250 million devices” around the United States, originally sourced from “tens of thousands” of mobile apps. Then, for a subscription fee that many law enforcement agencies are happy to pay, Fog provides access to a massive, searchable database of where people are located.
This means that police can open up their Fog map and do a number of things. They can draw a box and see identifiers representing every device within that geographical area at a given time frame. They can also use a device’s ID to trace that device’s precise location history over months or even years. Fog does not require police officers to obtain a warrant or other court order before acquiring this location data (unlike communication service companies that hold their customers’ location data and generally do require a court order). Likewise, many police departments that use Fog do not require their officers to get a warrant. [Continue reading…]