US law enforcement and military agencies have been buying their way around the Fourth Amendment using loopholes in federal privacy laws to access vast troves of our personal data.
As we all know, private companies like Facebook, Google, and Verizon, collect an almost limitless amount of information about us — where we are, what we like, what we do, how we feel. While government agencies are not allowed to buy that information directly from these consumer facing entities, once that information gets sold to data brokers (companies like Venntel, Locate X, X-Mode, Clearview AI and hundreds most of us have never heard of), it’s perfectly legal for ICE, the FBI, the CIA and the military to purchase any and all of it.
Essentially, it’s data laundering, allowing the government to access information that would normally require a court order. According to Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR),
“I think we’ve really reached the point where you have so much data floating around that governments can essentially buy their way around the Fourth Amendment.”
Just a few ways our government is getting its hands on our most personal data without a warrant:
Hundreds of police and government agencies have purchased access to a facial recognition service run by Clearview AI, allowing them to search through billions of photos Clearview downloaded from Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and YouTube.
In June, we learned that the IRS was purchasing cell phone location data to “track and identify potential criminal suspects.”
In July, we learned that Customs and Border Patrol “purchased access to a commercial database that allows the agency to look up the historical location of vehicles nationwide without a warrant,” to search “license plates of interest”. CBP itself noted that “The only way to opt out of such surveillance is to avoid the impacted area, which may pose significant hardships and be generally unrealistic.”
In August, we learned that CBP “paid nearly half a million dollars to a company that sells a product based on location data harvested from ordinary apps installed on peoples’ phones”.
Two weeks ago, we learned that the “U.S. military is buying the granular movement data of people around the world, harvested from innocuous-seeming apps.” Those apps included a Muslim prayer app, a Muslim dating site, and others.
It’s time for Congress to close this gaping loophole. Senator Wyden is promising to do that, aiming to introduce The Fourth Amendment Is Not For Sale Act this week. According to Wyden, “basically, it would outline a plan to ban the government from buying information that would otherwise require a court order or a warrant.”
It’s high time for that to happen, and as soon as the bill is introduced, we’ll let you know!