Civil rights lawyers and Democratic senators are seeking legislation to limit law enforcement agencies’ ability to buy cellphone tracking tools to follow people’s whereabouts, including years back in time, and sometimes without a search warrant. Concerns about police use of the tool known as “Fog Reveal” surfaced in a Federal Trade Commission hearing three weeks ago, the Associated Press reports. Police agencies have used the platform to search hundreds of billions of records gathered from 250 million mobile devices, and analyze people’s geolocation data to assemble so-called “patterns of life.” Sold by Virginia-based Fog Data Science LLC, Fog Reveal has been used since at least 2018 in criminal investigations ranging from the murder of a nurse in Arkansas to tracing the movements of a possible participant in the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol. The tool is rarely, if ever, mentioned in court records, something that defense attorneys say makes it harder for them to defend their clients in cases in which the technology was used.
“Americans are increasingly aware that their privacy is evaporating before their eyes, and the real-world implications can be devastating. Today, companies we’ve all heard of as well as companies we’re completely unaware of are collecting troves of data about where we go, what we do, and who we are,” said Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA). Panelists and members of the public who took part in the FTC hearing raised concerns about how data generated by popular apps is used for surveillance purposes, or “in some cases, being used to infer identity and cause direct harm to people in the real world, in the physical world and being repurposed for ... law enforcement and national security purposes,” said Stacey Gray of the Future of Privacy Forum. Matthew Broderick, a Fog managing partner, says that local law enforcement is at the front lines of trafficking and missing persons cases, but often falls behind in technology adoption. “We fill a gap for underfunded and understaffed departments,” he said, adding that the company does not have access to people’s personal information, nor are search warrants required.