Do you want the police to keep a record of everywhere you’ve ever been?
It would be awfully convenient for the police to have that information. Law enforcement could simply make a list of places where illegal things are likely to happen or where certain people are not allowed to go. Then, they could easily find out who goes to those places.
They could misuse that data. It could be used to track exactly who attends protests, for example. Or who visits abortion clinics.
According to the Associated Press, police around the country have been using a location data tracking tool called “Fog Reveal” to track the movements of most Americans.
The AP’s report says that the police have used this tool to search the records of 250 million mobile devices. They have harnessed that data to create “patterns of life,” as they call it – detailed analyses of the movements of millions of people.
Moreover, as the AP points out, the police rarely use Fog Reveal data as evidence in court. Therefore, defense attorneys often don’t know it was used at all and can’t challenge its use in court.
How does Fog Reveal work?
Fog Reveal uses advertising trackers in your phone. Thousands of popular cellphone apps contain these trackers. They are meant to be used to track people’s location in order to target advertising. However, Fog Reveal can also harvest that data and sell it to law enforcement.
This use of advertising trackers makes Fog Reveal different from other cellphone location data harvesting companies. You can’t turn off advertising trackers even by turning off your phone’s location services feature.
Fog Reveal also offers officers more revealing analysis than previous forms of cellphone location tracking.
“It’s sort of a mass surveillance program on a budget,” says a spokesperson for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which advocates for privacy rights online.
The AP and the Electronic Frontier Foundation found that law enforcement agencies from around the country are buying Fog Reveal’s software. They also found about 40 federal contracts allowing federal agencies to use Fog Reveal to track people’s locations.
This is real mass surveillance, folks
“The capability that it had for bringing up just anybody in an area whether they were in public or at home seemed to me to be a very clear violation of the Fourth Amendment,” which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures by the government, says a former crime analysis supervisor for a North Carolina police department.
People need privacy. People keep secrets. The government shouldn’t be allowed to take our privacy away, even when privacy may hide criminal behavior. We need much more police accountability and restraint.