US police agency used a low-cost surveillance tool to track people’s phones

Follow AP and EFF. AP released a report detailing the authorities’ use of the tool since at least 2018 for various investigations, including tracking murder suspects and potential people. participated in the riots in the Capitol on January 6. This tool, sold by the Virginia company Fog Data Science LLC, is unsecured and can be accessed immediately. To obtain geo-fencing data, authorities often have to issue orders to companies like Google and Apple, and it can take weeks for them to get the information they need.

Revealing the fog, AP explains, uses advertising identifiers, which are unique IDs assigned to each mobile device, to track people. It pulls information from aggregators that collect data from apps that serve targeted ads based on users’ location and interests, such as Waze and Starbucks. Both the coffee shop chain and its subsidiary Google have explicitly denied granting their partners the right to share data with Fog Reveal.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation obtained access to Fog documents through Freedom of Information Act requirements, which were then shared with AP. EFF special counsel, Bennett Cyphers, describes the tool as “a sort of mass surveillance program on a budget.” Its pricing reportedly starts at just $7,500 a year, and some dealers even share access with other nearby parts to bring costs down even further. Looking at data from GovSpend, which tracks government spending, AP found that Fog had sold about 40 contracts to nearly two dozen dealers. Authorities used it to search hundreds of records from 250 million devices.

While Fog Reveal only tracks people using advertising IDs not linked to their names, authorities can use its data to establish “patterns of life” analytics. For example, they can determine that a particular advertising ID belongs to someone who often passes by a Starbucks from home on their way to work. Furthermore, Fog provides authorities with access to advertising ID movements for at least 180 days. Fog’s managing partner, Matthew Broderick even recently admitted that the tool “has a date of three years back.”

Authorities have used the tool with varying degrees of success over the years. Washington County prosecutor Kevin Metcalf said he had previously used Fog without a warrant for cases where immediate action was needed, such as finding missing children and solving murder cases. He said of the privacy concerns surrounding Fog use: “I think people are going to have to make a decision whether we want all this free technology, we want all these free technologies. this free stuff, we want all the selfies. But we can’t have that and say, ‘I’m a private person, so you can’t look at any of that stuff.”

Of course, EFF doesn’t share his feelings. It calls Fog “a powerful invasive tool” and encourages people to turn off advertising ID tracking on their phone.

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