From rural California to rural North Carolina, local law enforcement agencies have used obscure cell phone tracking tools without a search warrant, sometimes without a search warrant. Associated Press.
According to thousands of pages of records about the company, police use “Fog Reveal” to search hundreds of billions of records across 250 million mobile devices, and use that data to communicate with law enforcement agencies. created a location analysis known as ‘patterns of life’.
Since at least 2018, Fog Reveal, marketed by Virginia-based Fog Data Science LLC, has gone from the murder of a nurse in Arkansas to the death of a person who may have participated in the January 6th Capitol riot. It has been used in a variety of criminal investigations, including movement tracking.
The tool is rarely, if ever, mentioned in court records, and defense attorneys say it will be difficult to properly defend their clients when the technology is used.
The company was developed by two former Homeland Security officials under former President George W. Bush.
It relies on advertising identification numbers, according to police emails, and Fog officials said Waze, Starbucks, and hundreds of other popular mobile phone apps that target ads based on a person’s movements and interests. It is said to have been selected from That information is then sold to companies such as Fog.
Bennett Cyphers, Special Advisor to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital privacy advocacy group, said:
This article was supported by the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting and is part of the ongoing AP series “Tracked,” which explores the power and consequences of algorithm-driven decisions in people’s everyday lives. .
Documents and emails were obtained by EFF through a Freedom of Information Act request.group shared files APsAccording to GovSpend, a company that monitors government spending, Fog independently discovered that it sold its software to nearly 20 institutions in about 40 contracts.
record and APsAccording to analysts and legal experts who scrutinize Fog Reveal’s technology, the Fog Reveal report provides the first public account of the widespread use of Fog Reveal by local police.
“Local law enforcement agencies are on the front lines of human trafficking and missing person cases, and these departments are often lagging behind in adopting technology,” said Managing Partner at Fog. One Matthew Broderick said in an email. “We bridge the gap between underfunded and understaffed departments.”
However, due to the secrecy surrounding Fog, few details about its use are known, most law enforcement agencies never discuss it, and privacy advocates believe it can protect against unjustified searches and seizures. Concerns have been raised that it violates the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. .
What distinguishes Fog Reveal from other cell phone location technologies used by law enforcement is that it tracks devices through an advertising ID, a unique number assigned to each device. These numbers do not contain the phone’s user’s name, but can be traced to homes and businesses to help police establish an analysis of their life patterns.
“The ability to nurture everyone in the community, whether in public or at home, is very clear to the Fourth Amendment,” said Davin Hall, former Greensboro crime data analytics supervisor. I felt like I was violating the rules,” he said. , North Carolina State Police. “I was angry, I was betrayed, I was lied to.”
Hall resigned in late 2020 after months of voicing concerns about the agency’s use of Fog for police attorneys and the city council.
Greensboro officials admitted to using fog and initially defended it, but police said earlier this year that the subscription was due to expire because it did not “provide an independent interest in the investigation.” said it allowed.
However, federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies across the United States continue to use Fog with little public accountability.
Local law enforcement agencies are drawn to Fog’s affordability. You can start at $7,500/year. Emails also indicate that some licensed departments share access with other nearby law enforcement agencies.
The police department also likes the quick access to detailed location information from Fog. Geofencing warrants that utilize GPS and other sources to track devices are accessed by obtaining such data from companies such as Google and Apple.
This requires police to obtain warrants and ask technology companies for the specific data they need, which can take days or weeks.
Using Fog’s data, which the company claims is anonymized, police can geofence areas or search by a specific device’s advertising ID number. APs.
However, according to a salesperson who emailed the California Highway Patrol in 2018 after the lieutenant asked if the tool could be used legally, Fog said “how to link a signal to a specific device or owner. No,” he claims.
Despite these privacy guarantees, records show that law enforcement can use Fog data as clues to find identifying information.
“There is no (personal information) associated with (advertising ID),” Missouri officials wrote of Fog in 2019.
Federal oversight of companies like Fog is an evolving legal landscape.
On Monday, the Federal Trade Commission sued a data broker called Kochava, as did Fog. Kochava provides customers with an advertising ID that authorities claim can be easily used to find out where mobile device users live. This is against the rules enforced by the Commission. And now there is a bill in Congress that, if passed, will regulate the industry.
Fog’s Broderick said in an email that the company does not have access to people’s personal information and that it is “commercially available without usage restrictions” from data brokers who “purchase data legally from the app pursuant to legal agreements.” He said that he is using “data that is available”.
The company declined to share information about how many police agencies it works with.
“We believe law enforcement agencies have responsible leadership, constraints, and political guidance at the local, state, and federal levels, and we believe law enforcement tools and methods are appropriate for each jurisdiction. We will ensure that it is used properly according to the law,” said Broderick. .