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Secret tool allegedly used by police to mass surveil Americans


A previously unknown company provides law enforcement with precise and continuous geolocation of hundreds of million Americans, a non-profit digital rights group said.

“With a click and drag of a mouse, police can see the devices of every person who attended a protest, follow them home to where they sleep and open up people exercising their constitutionally-protected right to protest to more surveillance, harassment, and retribution,” the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) said.

According to the group, Fog Data Science LLC supplies police with Americans’ exact location data collected through their smartphone apps and then aggregated by data brokers.

“According to documents created by the company, Fog purchases “billions of data points” from some “250 million devices” around the United States, originally sourced from “tens of thousands” of mobile apps. Then, for a subscription fee that many law enforcement agencies are happy to pay, Fog provides access to a massive, searchable database of where people are located,” EFF said.

According to the company documents, the Fog platform has “predictive analytics and near real-time insights on how people go about their daily lives.” The platform processes: 250 million devices each month, 15 billion location signals daily, 10 million fenced points of interest, 1+ million daily events.

“This means that police can open up their Fog map and do a number of things. They can draw a box and see identifiers representing every device within that geographical area at a given time frame. They can also use a device’s ID to trace that device’s precise location history over months or even years,” EFF explained.

According to the group, Fog, contrary to the communication service companies, doesn’t ask for a warrant before releasing that data to the police.

“Some police departments that use Fog do require officers to get a warrant. Records show that representatives for Fog have circulated a template warrant to police. However, even when used with a warrant, the Fourth Amendment forbids general, non-particular searches of the location data of all people who happen to be present at a particular place,” EFF said.

EFF reasoned that The Fourth Amendment protects users from unreasonable searches and seizures and that warrantless purchase of this data violates the First Amendment because “police can use it to identify people who attend protests, which can discourage people from attending.“

“This type of surveillance also makes people who live and work around heavily-policed areas more vulnerable to being regarded with suspicion by police. If you happened to be next door to a pizza shop that got robbed or took a coffee break near graffiti, police could easily see your device located near the crime and recommend you for more surveillance,” EFF said.


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