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(Reclaim The Net) — To likely no big – or any – surprise to anyone tracking the history and modus operandi of governmental abuse of data harvested from people’s phones by Big Tech, and then given to the government(s) to use, as its various entities see fit – reports are now emerging of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), as well as its Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Enforcement (CBP), being involved in one such scheme.

The U.S. Secret Service is cited in there as well – and all of them are accused of effectively breaking the law in order to harness unsuspecting people’s apps on their phones to gain access to their owners’ physical location.

READ: New York Gov. Kathy Hochul says state is monitoring social media for ‘hate’ speech

Surprising (maybe) to likely nobody watching this space for a while now is the claim that in at least one case, this data was used by an employee of said agencies for private purposes – not related to any investigation – “just” as a handy means to spy on a coworker.

Access to, and eventually abuse of, Commercial Telemetry Data (CTD) is the official term of what is claimed to have made this transgression possible.

Another thing that’s not exactly a surprising revelation, is that the U.S. government and the many entities subordinate to it have managed to gain access to the much coveted location data from what’s known as “third parties” – the murkiest of the murky business entities that have for a long time managed to play the game by buying and selling data, and making a hell of a profit – while essentially remaining unaccountable to anybody.

Apparently, some accountability might be on the horizon now. Not that the laws have changed significantly, or indeed, that federal agencies are not happy to use any legal loopholes.

This time, internal reports are talking about alleged proof of “the three main customers” of the location data, who in fact do this illegally. As in, supervision that was supposed to be there in the first place while these highly controversial transactions were taking place simply was not there at all.

A copy of the internal reports can be found here.

The lawfulness contested here has to do with the laws in the U.S., which, thanks to the country’s Fourth Constitutional Amendment, requires anyone acting on behalf of the government to produce a valid warrant in order to conduct a search.

Access to a person’s personal digital data, opponents to what is currently sanctioned as “legal” in the U.S. argue, surely qualifies as a search.

But where’s the warrant?

Different civil rights groups are coming at this massive topic from their (perhaps) regrettably “politics-and-ideology-first” point of view, when the implications of the practice are truly universal – and not just regarding the U.S., and everyone in it.

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Still, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) found it within themselves to condemn the policy first, as an “appetizer,” from the “little citizen” point of view: “The individual told the coworkers they had tracked their location using CTD… the issue was ‘resolved administratively,’” reports describe that particular complaint’s history.

But then the ACLU came out with what really happens to bother them – legitimately, as other groups may look out for people’s data privacy, no matter who they are.

But the ACLU did put an emphasis on the U.S. ICE and CBP as playing this particular game – namely, that of tracking people’s location data, unwittingly “shared” from “unsuspecting” apps on their phones.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, EFF, did go out of its way to define it so:

The (ACLU) report makes it clear that DHS agencies have been playing it fast and loose with their acquisition of Americans’ location data.

That said – “Congress needs to explicitly bar law enforcement and intelligence agencies from purchasing data from private companies that they would have otherwise needed a warrant to acquire.”

But how is any of this possible in the first place – whether it concerns actual citizens, legal immigrants, or illegal migrants?

According to EFF, it’s “because the components (of Privacy Impact Assessment, PIA) did not have sufficient internal controls to ensure compliance with DHS privacy policies, and because the DHS Privacy Office did not follow or enforce its own privacy policies and guidance.”

Another – perhaps more interesting report – puts the emphasis on the ways ICE looked to carry on with an allegedly dodgy location data tracking broker after the 2021 supposed “data pause.”

Seems easy enough – extend the contract (each worth some $800,000 a year) year after year.

Who’s the contact with?

One Babel Street.

What’s that?

Babel Street is known for capturing publicly and commercially available information (PAI/CAI) in their quest to provide threat intelligence. While the premise is to secure and inform, this beacon of technological advancement casts a shadow, stirring a debate on civil liberties and surveillance concerns.

Babel Street and its counterparts promise unparalleled situational awareness, sifting through the digital chaff to glean actionable intelligence. Governments and corporations herald these platforms as vanguards of safety, essential in an era where threats loom in the recesses of cyberspace. But at what cost to privacy?

The very efficacy of these tools hinges on their ability to be ever-watchful, analyzing patterns and predicting risks. The concern, however, is the potential for such systems to inadvertently morph into a sort of digital Panopticon, where the watched are unaware of the watchers, yet are constantly under surveillance. This scenario is the anathema of personal privacy, a concept that is the bedrock of civil liberties.

READ: Snowden, Assange, Jordan Peterson sound alarm on global censorship: ‘Crisis of humanity itself’

Proponents argue that platforms like Babel Street operate within the realm of PAI/CAI, tapping into what is already in the public domain. Yet, this public information is amassed at an unprecedented scale and depth, potentially revealing more than individuals might expect to be accessible. The granularity of the data available can paint detailed portraits of daily lives, interests, and behaviors.

The line between public good and privacy infringement becomes blurry when such comprehensive surveillance is normalized. It’s a Catch-22 situation where the protection of civil liberties could be at odds with the perceived benefits of omniscient surveillance systems.

Babel Street prides itself on being a virtual data interpreter, a role that carries significant power. The interpretation of data can influence decisions in high-stakes fields like law enforcement and national security. But who guards the guardians? Who ensures that the interpretation does not become a subjective narrative that could infringe upon civil rights or be wielded for political gain?

As surveillance tools become more sophisticated, the call for oversight grows louder. The digital divide is no longer about access to technology but about the transparency and control of surveillance tools. There must be checks and balances to ensure these powerful tools do not overstep, and that there is accountability for misuse.

In the discourse of digital surveillance, wherein entities such as Babel Street are prominent actors, a critical examination reveals a narrative fraught with potential overreach and intrusion into individual freedoms. This discourse is not a detached observation but a dire caution against the expansive and often opaque nature of these surveillance mechanisms.

The concern is not unfounded; these tools, in their pursuit of public safety, may inadvertently compromise the sanctity of privacy, which is a cornerstone of democratic principles. Their capability to monitor indiscriminately raises profound ethical questions, blurring the lines between vigilance and violation.

It is imperative, therefore, that this conclusion serve as a rigorous critique of the current trajectory of surveillance technologies. The unchecked advancement of such tools harbors the risk of fostering an environment where privacy is unduly compromised, invoking the specter of an omnipresent surveillance apparatus.

Reprinted with permission from Reclaim The Net.

Send an urgent message to Canadian legislators urging them to stop more online censorship laws