US Police Agencies Tracks People’s Phones With Low-Cost Surveillance Tool

The tool, which is sold by the Virginia company Fog Data Science LLC, does not require a warrant and can be accessed immediately. To obtain geofence data, authorities must typically issue a warrant to companies such as Google and Apple, and this process can take weeks.

US Police Agencies Tracks People's Phones With Low-Cost Surveillance Tool - RAVZGADGET
US Police Agencies Tracks People's Phones With Low-Cost Surveillance Tool.
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According to the AP and the EFF, police and law enforcement agencies have been using a low-cost phone tracking tool called Fog Reveal, even in small areas with fewer than 100,000 residents.

The Associated Press has published a report detailing authorities’ use of the tool for various investigations since at least 2018, including tracking murder suspects and potential participants in the January 6th Capitol riot.

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The tool, which is sold by the Virginia company Fog Data Science LLC, does not require a warrant and can be accessed immediately. To obtain geofence data, authorities must typically issue a warrant to companies such as Google and Apple, and this process can take weeks.

According to AP, Fog Reveal tracks people by using advertising identification numbers, which are unique IDs assigned to each mobile device. It gets its data from aggregators who collect data from apps like Waze and Starbucks that serve targeted ads based on a user’s location and interests.

Both the coffee shop chain and the Google subsidiary denied explicitly authorizing their partners to share data with Fog Reveal.

Through Freedom of Information Act requests, the Electronic Frontier Foundation obtained documents about Fog, which it then shared with AP. Bennett Cyphers, an EFF special adviser, describes the tool as “sort of a mass surveillance program on a budget.”

Its prices are said to start at $7,500 per year, and some agencies even share access with other nearby departments to further reduce costs.

According to data from GovSpend, which tracks government spending, Fog was able to sell around 40 contracts to nearly two dozen agencies. Authorities have already used it to search hundreds of millions of records.

While Fog Reveal only tracks people using advertising IDs that aren’t linked to their names, authorities can use its data to create “patterns-of-life” analyses. They can, for example, determine that a specific ad ID belongs to a person who frequently passes by a Starbucks on their way to work from home.

Furthermore, Fog allows authorities to track an ad ID’s movements back at least 180 days. Matthew Broderick, managing partner at Fog, recently admitted that the tool “has a three-year reach back.”

Authorities have used the tool with varying degrees of success in recent years. Prosecutor Kevin Metcalf of Washington County said he has previously used Fog without a warrant in situations requiring immediate action, such as finding missing children and solving homicide cases.

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In response to privacy concerns raised by Fog’s use, he stated: “I think people are going to have to make a decision on whether we want all this free technology, we want all this free stuff, we want all the selfies. But we can’t have that and at the same time say, ‘I’m a private person, so you can’t look at any of that.”

The EFF, of course, disagrees with him. It calls Fog a “powerfully invasive tool” and advises users to turn off ad ID tracking on their phones.

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