Markey and other lawmakers push to reform police cellphone tracking tools

Fog Reveal, sold by Virginia-based Fog Data Science LLC, has been used in criminal investigations since at least 2018, from the murder of an Arkansas nurse to tracking the actions of potential actors on Jan. 1. 6 Capitol Uprising. The tool is rarely mentioned in court records, if at all, defense attorneys say, making it harder for them to properly protect their clients in cases where the technology is used.

“Americans are increasingly aware that their privacy is disappearing before their eyes, and the real-world impact can be devastating. Today, companies we all hear about and companies we have absolutely no idea about are collecting information about where we go, what we A lot of data on what we do and who we are,” Sen said. Massachusetts Democrat Ed Markey.

Panelists and the public at the FTC hearing also expressed concerns about how data generated by popular apps could be used for surveillance purposes or “in some cases be used to infer identities and cause direct harm to people in the real world,” in physical terms. the world, and is being reused, as previously mentioned, for law enforcement and national security purposes,” said Stacey Gray, senior director of the Future of America program at the Privacy Forum.

The FTC declined to comment specifically on Fog Reveal.

Fog managing partner Matthew Broderick told The Associated Press that local law enforcement is on the front lines of trafficking and missing persons cases, but often lags behind in technology adoption.

“We fill a void in an underfunded and understaffed department,” he said in an email, adding that companies don’t have access to people’s personal information and don’t need search warrants. The company declined to share information on how many police agencies it works with.

Fog Reveal was developed by two former senior Department of Homeland Security officials under former President George W. Bush. It relies on ad identification numbers, which Fog officials say are culled from popular mobile phone apps like Waze, Starbucks and hundreds of others that target ads based on people’s actions and interests, according to police emails. application. This information is then sold to companies such as Fog.

Federal regulation of companies such as Fog is an evolving legal environment. Last month, the Federal Trade Commission sued a data broker called Kochava, which, like Fog, provides its clients with advertising IDs that authorities say can be easily used to find out where mobile device users live. Violating the rules enforced by the committee. and a bill introduced by senators. Ron Wyden is now in Congress seeking to regulate how government agencies obtain data from data brokers and other private companies at a time when privacy advocates worry that location tracking could be used for other new uses, such as keeping tabs on the search for data in states that are now illegal Abortion.

“Not long ago, it took high-tech equipment or a dedicated team of agents to track a person’s movements 24/7. Now, it’s just a few thousand dollars and a willingness to sleep with shady data brokers,” said Oregon Democrat Wyden. “It’s outrageous that data brokers are selling detailed location data to law enforcement agencies across the country — including in states that make personal reproductive health decisions a serious crime.”

Due to the secrecy of Fog, there are few details about its use. Most law enforcement agencies won’t discuss it, raising concerns among privacy advocates that it violates the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which is designed to prevent unreasonable searches and seizures.

Advocates on both sides of the aisle should be concerned about the government’s unfettered use of Fog Reveal, the former Virginia Republican Rep. said. Bob Goodlatte, former chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee.

“Fog Reveal makes it easy to de-anonymize Americans’ daily activities and location histories. Where we go can say a lot about who we are, who we associate with, and even what we believe or how we adore,” said Goodlatte, who Now serves as a senior policy advisor to the Privacy and Surveillance Accountability Project. “The current political climate means this technology can be used against the left, the right and the centrist. It’s in everyone’s interest to contain this technology.”

The NYPD used Fog Reveal at its real-time crime center in 2018 and 2019, and public records confirm a previously undisclosed relationship. A spokesman said in an emailed statement that the NYPD used Fog on a trial basis “simply to find leads for criminal investigations and lifesaving operations such as missing persons.” The department did not specify the two Whether the situation is successful.

Albert Fox Cahn, executive director of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, said two nonprofits supporting New York City’s privacy case said the tool exploited consumers’ personal data and was “ripe for abuse. “.

“The lack of any meaningful regulation of the collection and sale of app data is both a consumer crisis and a privacy crisis,” Legal Aid Society staff member Benjamin Berg wrote in a recent article. “Both federal and state governments need to develop policies to protect consumer data.”


Burke reported from San Francisco.


This story, supported by the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting, is part of the Associated Press’ ongoing “Tracking” series investigating the impact and consequences of algorithm-driven decisions on people’s daily lives.


Follow Garance Burke and Jason Dearen on Twitter at @garanceburke and @jhdearen.Contact the Associated Press’ global investigative team at or

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