The US Secret Service (USSS) has reportedly bought a product that allows them to access location data from certain apps on unsuspecting people’s phones. The product, called Location X, was sold as part of a contract between the USSS and Babel Street which ran between September 28, 2017, and September 27, 2018, for the cost of $36 000.
The contract, which was obtained by Motherboard through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, confirms the findings of Protocol, who published a report on the matter in March this year. Protocol found that the Secret Service, US Customs and Border Patrol, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement have all used Location X, with one employee telling the publication that it was used by the USSS to seize illegal credit card skimmers installed at gas pumps in 2018.
Many apps use our location data and, often, it can be our best interest to give it up – particularly for weather and GPS applications. However, many apps don’t really need this data, and a lot of it is sold to companies for advertising purposes. Location is typically not expected to be sold to government agencies. But, according to Motherboard, it increasingly is being sold to the likes of the USSS and ICE.
Law enforcement agencies would usually need a warrant to access user data like location, but companies like Babel are allowing them to bypass this by paying directly to obtain this anonymous (but not really) information.
Senator Ron Wyden told Motherboard that he is planning legislation that would block these types of purchases with the ‘The Fourth Amendment Is Not For Sale’ bill. “It is clear that multiple federal agencies have turned to purchasing Americans’ data to buy their way around Americans’ Fourth Amendment Rights. I’m drafting legislation to close this loophole, and ensure the Fourth Amendment isn’t for sale,” he said in a statement to Motherboard.
Both the USSS and Babel Street failed to respond to a request for comment from Senator Wyden and Motherboard.