Is the US government purchasing cellphone data to locate and arrest undocumented immigrants?

Thursday, October 21, 2021
By Jacob Alabab-Moser

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement purchased location data generated from cellphone activity and used it to identify and arrest immigrants, according to people familiar with the matter that spoke with the Wall Street Journal. ICE and other immigration agencies like U.S. Customs and Border Protection have been buying large commercial datasets since at least 2017 from Venntel, a small location-based marketing company. The location data is harvested from smartphone apps.

In December 2020, the inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees ICE and CBP, announced an investigation into "policies related to cell-phone surveillance devices."

A letter written by the Inspector General to Congress from February 2021 recognized that the Fourth Amendment protects users' cellphone-produced location data—including GPS data produced automatically through the use of applications on cellphones—and that the government needs warrants to access it.

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