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Homeland Security Has Gathered More Location Data Than Previously Known

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New documents by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) show that the Department of Homeland Security has gathered more mobile location data than was previously revealed. 

In a report released on July 18, the individual rights nonprofit revealed that they were able to access more than 6,000 records about the department’s practices through an ongoing Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against Homeland Security. 

Of these records, the ACLU found that Homeland Security was able to use taxpayer money to obtain about 336,000 location points through trackers on people’s phones from data brokers such as Venntel and Babel Street. In 2018, the department got hold of 113,654 location points from just a small part of the Southwestern United States over the course of three days, averaging a total of 26 location points obtained per minute. 

Although names or other personal information can’t be immediately linked to a specific location, the ACLU claimed that, with the data, Homeland Security was able to target the privacy of people around the nation’s borders. During their research, ACLU found that, in 2018, the department sent a document suggesting that the data they’ve collected should be used to track illegal immigration, creating a privacy concern for the people who live in communities by the border.

Local law enforcement also has the ability to access the information as shown by a request to Homeland Security by a local department in Ohio for location data to track opioid overdoses.

“The principle here is simple: The government should not be allowed to purchase its way around bedrock constitutional protections against unreasonable searches of our private information,” wrote the ACLU in their report. “There is no end run around the Fourth Amendment.”

In 2020, it was previously revealed by the Wall Street Journal that Homeland Security was accessing citizens’ private location data. 

Although in the 2018 ruling of Carpenter v. United States- the case when Timothy Carpenter appealed his sentence after the government used cell-site data to incriminate him in a robbery-  the Supreme Court claimed that law enforcement needs to have a warrant to get location data, the news outlet reported that the department was able to sidestep the ruling using the data brokers. 

After the information was released, 20 senators introduced the “Fourth Amendment is Not For Sale” Act in April 2021. With the act, any legal loopholes that allow data brokers to provide people’s personal information without a court order would be prohibited, preventing the government from purchasing information around the Supreme Court’s order.

“The principle here is simple: The government should not be allowed to purchase its way around bedrock constitutional protections against unreasonable searches of our private information,” wrote the ACLU in their report. “There is no end run around the Fourth Amendment.”

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