US Police Deployed Obscure Smartphone Tracking Tool With No Warrants

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Various law enforcement agencies in Southern California and North Carolina have deployed an obscure cellphone tracking tool dubbed ‘Fog Reveal,’ sometimes without search warrants, a new investigation by the Associated Press (AP) has revealed.

The tool gave police offers the ability to search billions of records from 250 million mobile devices and harness the ensuing data to create “patterns of life” for each individual, which also included homes and workplaces locations.

Fog Reveal was reportedly created by Virginia-based company Fog Data Science and deployed by US police officers as early as 2018 for criminal investigations.

From a technical standpoint, Fog Reveal relied upon advertising identification numbers gathered from popular smartphone apps that target ads based on a person’s movements and interests. This data was gathered by these companies and then sold to Fog.

According to AP, Fog aggregated the data in a searchable way and created software able to sift through it in an organized manner. It then sold the software in about 40 contracts to roughly 20 agencies, with prices starting at $7,500 a year.

At the time of writing, Fog Reveal is reportedly still being used by several law enforcement agencies. 

The technology is controversial since, normally, smartphone geolocation data of individuals should only be requested to Google (Android devices) or Apple (iPhones and iPads) by police forces in possession of a warrant released by a court.

Fog defended this claim by arguing that its data is anonymized, with the company not having any way of linking signals back to a specific device or owner.

At the same time, some of the documents obtained by AP suggest police forces may be able to deanonymize the data to identify and locate specific individuals. 

The AP investigation relied on public records (including GovSpend and Freedom of Information Act requests) as well as internal emails obtained by the news outlet.

It comes days after the US military and intelligence entities unveiled a new monitoring operation to protect electoral procedures from hacking and disinformation before and during the November midterms elections.

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