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The US government is using a commercial app database to track, arrest immigrants

The Department of Homeland Security acknowledged buying access to the database.

Published onFebruary 7, 2020

Xiaomi Mi Note 10 in hand outside 1

A new report from The Wall Street Journal claims the Trump administration has purchased access to an extensive commercial database to map the whereabouts of millions of Americans to crackdown on illegal immigration. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) acknowledged buying access to the data, though it wouldn’t discuss details about how it’s using it.

According to the WSJ, the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement — a division of the DHS — has used this information to detect, identify, and arrest undocumented immigrants. Another DHS division — US Customs and Border Protection — has used the database to track cellphone activity in remote stretches of desert and other unusual places near the Mexican border to catch incoming immigrants.

It looks like the US government's use of this data falls within legal territory.

The location data was collected from unassuming mobile apps and games users have granted permission to log their location. This is one of the largest known databases used by US law enforcement agents to track and monitor people.

Apparently, the data has also been shared with ICE to track human/drug-smuggling organizations as well as carry out deportations. An ICE spokesman declined to discuss the validity of these accusations.

It looks like the US government’s use of this data falls within legal territory, though a case like this has never been tested in court before. Since the data only tracks locations and not individual identities, and since the Trump administration purchased access to this data from a commercial vendor, it is most likely regulated the same way a private company might be.

Read also: All the key Android 10 privacy updates explained

“This is a classic situation where creeping commercial surveillance in the private sector is now bleeding directly over into government,” said Alan Butler, general counsel of the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

As of right now, it looks like the US government will continue legally tracking its citizens and immigrants alike using this database for the foreseeable future.

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