Tech Tool for mass surveillance: Local law enforcement from Southern California to North Carolina used an obscure cellphone-tracking technique without warrants, according to public data and private exchanges obtained by The Associated Press.
“Fog Reveal” searches hundreds of billions of records from 250 million mobile devices to provide “patterns of life” location assessments.
Fog Data Science LLC’s Fog Reveal has been used in criminal investigations since 2018 ranging from a nurse’s death to a Capitol insurgent’s travels. The approach is rarely, if ever, acknowledged in court records, which makes defending clients harder.
Two former George W. Bush DHS officials founded the startup. Fog relies on advertising identification numbers taken from popular cellphone apps such as Waze, Starbucks, and hundreds more, according to police emails. Fog buys this knowledge.
Bennett Cyphers, a digital privacy rights advocate, called it a “mass surveillance programme on a budget.”
Davin Hall resigned in 2020 after repeatedly informing the city council and police attorneys about Fog’s tracking programme.
“The potential to bring up anyone in a public or private space felt like a blatant Fourth Amendment infringement,” Hall told the AP.
Greensboro Police confirmed using Fog in earlier investigations, but authorities said they haven’t renewed their subscription because they couldn’t discover evidence that the programme “independently benefits investigations.”
Fog’s surveillance software starts at $7,500 a year, which police departments in the US like. Internal police communications show that subscribing departments have shared the technology with surrounding authorities.
Fog lets officials access user location data faster than a geofence warrant, which might take weeks or months to approve.
The Virginia-based corporation defends its software by stating data is anonymized and signals are untraceable. Police can scan ad ID numbers or geofence a territory based on a person’s location history.
From data generation through brokerage to downstream use, there is minimal federal regulation. Moreover lack of standards or enforcement has led to controversies around data abuse and theft. When or if Congress passes measures that could impact how personal data divided down is anyone’s guess. End users can’t readily limit data collection, but we have tips.