Analysts at the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) have bought databases of US smartphone location data in recent years without a warrant, according to an unclassified memo obtained by the New York Times.
According to the memo, written by officials for Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, DIA analysts have been keeping track of the movements of Americans over the past two and a half years. In addition, DIA analysts have searched US location data five times during the past two and a half years, the document revealed.
During a 2018 ruling called the Carpenter decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the US Constitution requires the government to obtain a warrant when requesting that phone companies turn over location data regarding their consumers.
However, there is a loophole in the privacy law since the government can obtain similar data from a broker without a warrant.
“DIA does not construe the Carpenter decision to require a judicial warrant endorsing purchase or use of commercially available data for intelligence purposes,” the agency memo said.
Wyden has also stated that he plans to propose legislation, dubbed the Fourth Amendment is Not for Sale Act, to protect commercially available location data. The bill would bar governments from buying data from unregulated data brokers.
In a Senate speech this week, Wyden condemned scenarios “in which the government, instead of getting an order, just goes out and purchases the private records of Americans from these sleazy and unregulated commercial data brokers who are simply above the law.”
In a statement to the Hill, Ashley Gorski, senior staff attorney at the ACLU, revealed that the DIA memo shows that Congress needs to implement revised legislation.
"The government cannot simply buy our private data in order to bypass bedrock constitutional protections," Gorski told the Hill. "Congress must end this lawless practice and require the government to get a warrant for our location data, regardless of its source.”
This is not the first time that government entities have been found to be purchasing data from data brokers.
In November, Vice News’ Motherboard revealed that the US military was purchasing data from a Muslim prayer app through a third-party broker called X-Mode. In February, the Wall Street Journal revealed that the Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement used commercial databases to track immigrants.