US police agencies have been using a low-cost surveillance tool to track people’s phones

Police and law enforcement agencies have deployed an inexpensive phone tracking tool called Fog Reveal even in small areas of fewer than 100,000 people AP and the EFF. AP has released a report detailing authorities’ use of the tool since at least 2018 for various investigations, including tracking murder suspects and potential participants in the Jan. 6 Capitol riots. The tool, sold by Virginia company Fog Data Science LLC, does not require a search warrant and can be accessed instantly. Obtaining geofence data usually requires authorities to issue a warrant to companies like Google and Apple, and it can take weeks to get the information they need.

reveal fog, AP explains, uses advertising identification numbers, which are unique identifiers assigned to each mobile device, to track individuals. It gets its information from aggregators, which collect data from apps that serve targeted advertisements based on a user’s location and interests, such as: B. Waze and Starbucks. Both the coffee house chain and the Google subsidiary expressly refused their partners’ permission to share data with Fog Reveal.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation obtained access to documents about Fog through Freedom of Information Act requests, which it then shared with them AP. EFF Special Counsel Bennett Cyphers describes the tool as “a sort of low-budget mass surveillance program.” Pricing reportedly starts as low as $7,500 per year, and some agencies are even sharing access with other nearby departments to keep costs down. Looking at data from GovSpend, which monitors government spending, AP found that Fog managed to sell around 40 contracts to nearly two dozen agencies. Authorities have already used it to search hundreds of data sets from 250 million devices.

While Fog Reveal only tracks people using their advertising IDs, which are not linked to their names, authorities can use their data to create “patterns-of-life” analysis. For example, you may find that a specific ad ID belongs to a person who usually walks by a Starbucks from their home on their way to work. In addition, Fog grants authorities access to an ad ID’s movements going back at least 180 days. Matthew Broderick, Fog’s managing partner, even recently admitted that the tool “has a three-year reach.”

Authorities have used the tool in recent years with varying degrees of success. Washington County Attorney Kevin Metcalf said he had previously used Fog without a warrant for circumstances that required immediate action, such as: B. to find missing children and solve murder cases. He said of privacy concerns surrounding using Fog, “I think people are going to have to make a decision like we want all this free technology, we want all this free stuff, we want all the selfies. But we can’t have that and at the same time be like, “I’m a private person, so you can’t look at all this.”

The EFF, of course, does not share his opinion. It called Fog “a highly invasive tool” and encourages people to turn off Ad ID tracking on their phones.

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