Enlarge /. If your phone knows where you are, so can the government.
The Defense Intelligence Agency, which provides military intelligence to the Department of Defense, confirmed in a memo that it is purchasing "commercially available" smartphone location data in order to gather information that would otherwise require the use of a search warrant.
The DIA "is currently funding another agency that is buying commercially available geolocation metadata that has been aggregated via smartphones," the agency wrote in a memo (PDF) to Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), First published by the New York Times was related.
The Supreme Court, in its 2018 Carpenter v. United States ruling, ruled that the government needed an actual search warrant to collect a person's location data. "When the government tracks the location of a cell phone, near perfect surveillance is achieved, as if it had connected an ankle monitor to the user of the phone," wrote Chief Justice John Roberts in his opinion for the majority. "The retrospective quality of the data here gives the police access to a category of information that would otherwise not be known."
However, the reality of the market has created a huge void: there are innumerable companies in the private marketplace that collect, collect, and resell all kinds of personal data from virtually everyone in the country. Instead of doing their own research, law enforcement agencies only buy the data they want.
For example, last summer media reports found that Customs and Border Patrol was buying license plate scanner data to track people's movements. Later reports also showed that CBP and Immigration and Customs Enforcement are buying location data for cell phones – information the agencies would otherwise need to get a search warrant. The Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security opened an investigation in December to determine if the tactic "complied with guidelines for cell phone monitoring devices."
According to media reports, the Secret Service, IRS and other agencies have also bought mobile location data.
The DIA explains in the memo that it simply does not believe that the Carpenter judgment applies to them. "DIA is not interpreting Carpenter's decision to seek an arrest warrant confirming the purchase or use of commercially available data for intelligence purposes," the agency wrote. "DIA's collection, use, and storage of commercial geolocation data is not subject to" these civil law enforcement regulations, but rather to "Department of Defense-approved data processing requirements" approved by the Department of Defense.