Wyden, Warren, Brown, Markey, Schatz Push for Investigation of CBP Phone Location Data Surveillance Program
Washington, D.C. – U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., and Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, today requested an inspector general investigation into Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) warrantless tracking of phones in the United States.
As revealed by public contracts, CBP has paid a government contractor named Venntel nearly half a million dollars for access to a commercial database containing location data mined from applications on millions of Americans’ mobile phones. CBP officials also confirmed the agency’s warrantless tracking of phones in the United States using Venntel’s product in a September 16, 2020 call with Senate staff.
In 2018, the Supreme Court held in Carpenter v. United States that the collection of significant quantities of historical location data from Americans’ cell phones is a search under the Fourth Amendment and therefore requires a warrant.
“CBP is not above the law and it should not be able to buy its way around the Fourth Amendment,” the senators wrote in a letter to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Inspector General Joseph V. Cuffari. “Accordingly, we urge you to investigate CBP’s warrantless use of commercial databases containing Americans’ information, including but not limited to Venntel’s location database.”
The senators also requested the inspector general investigate any legal analysis CBP’s lawyers performed before the agency started to use this surveillance tool and how CBP was able to begin operational use of Venntel’s location database without the DHS Privacy Office first publishing a Privacy Impact Assessment.
In September 2020, Wyden and Warren successfully pressed for an inspector general investigation into the Internal Revenue Service’s use of Venntel’s commercial location tracking service without a court order.
A full copy of today’s letter is available here.
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