The intelligence agency has just reported that the US government still purchase location data obtained by its residents’ smartphones. In a memo sent to Sen. Ron Wyden and accessed by The New York Times, the Defense Intelligence Agency has acknowledged that it buys position data from brokers—and that the data is not divided from whether an individual lives in or outside the United States.
Data brokers are businesses that, as the name suggests, gather and distribute details to individuals. Companies gather information about the position of people by asking software developers and blogs for it. If the broker has the details, they will gather it and sell it to anybody willing to pay for it—including the US government.
In the memo, the DIA states that its “personnel can only query the U.S. location database if it is authorized through a specific process” that needs the consent of senior management, the Office of Oversight and Security and the Office of the General Counsel. The DIA also says that five times in the past two and a half years, permission has been granted to access data from US system locations.
The Fourth Amendment allows federal officials to seek a subpoena before they can compel data from a third party, such as a phone company—a law most recently upheld by the Carpenter ruling of the Supreme Court. However, the DIA insists that the decision does not extend to the collection of the same data from brokers because the Department does not use the power of law.
In the memo, it states that the agency “does not construe the Carpenter decision to require a judicial warrant endorsing purchase or use of commercially available data for intelligence purposes.”
The American Civil Liberties Union is not in agreement. In a statement to The Verge, Senior Staff Attorney Ashley Gorski said that “the government cannot simply purchase our private data in order to circumvent the basic constitutional protections,” and called on Congress to “end this lawless practice and require the government to get a warrant for our location data, regardless of its source.”