Demanding to see the paper trail, the American Civil Liberties Union complained in federal court Wednesday that the Trump administration is staying mum about its efforts to track immigrants’ movements using cellphone location data, reports Courthouse News Service. “While it has been widely reported that defendant agencies are acquiring this highly sensitive data without warrants, little is known about how they are using it, what controls are in place over such use, and how they square their practices with … provisions of federal law,” the ACLU says. The lawsuit comes two years after the Supreme Court held that Americans have a reasonable expectation of privacy when it comes to cellphone location data, so police must get a warrant to obtain that information.
The Wall Street Journal has reported that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Security, has used data from a firm called Venntel to assist in identifying immigrants who were later arrested. Another agency, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, is said to have used the information to scour for cellphone activity in “unusual places, such as remote stretches of desert that straddle the Mexican border,” says the ACLU suit. Seeking to “shine a light on the government’s use of powerful location-tracking data in the immigration context,” the ACLU filed Freedom of Information Act requests February 2020 for agency records concerning their access to and purchases from commercial databases containing cellphone location information. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) has started an investigation into the mass collection and sale of sensitive mobile phone location data that reveals the precise movements of millions of Americans.