The US Military Buys Commercial Location Data

Vice has a long article about how the US military buys commercial location data worldwide.

The U.S. military is buying the granular movement data of people around the world, harvested from innocuous-seeming apps, Motherboard has learned. The most popular app among a group Motherboard analyzed connected to this sort of data sale is a Muslim prayer and Quran app that has more than 98 million downloads worldwide. Others include a Muslim dating app, a popular Craigslist app, an app for following storms, and a “level” app that can be used to help, for example, install shelves in a bedroom.

This isn’t new, this isn’t just data of non-US citizens, and this isn’t the US military. We have lots of instances where the government buys data that it cannot legally collect itself.

Some app developers Motherboard spoke to were not aware who their users’ location data ends up with, and even if a user examines an app’s privacy policy, they may not ultimately realize how many different industries, companies, or government agencies are buying some of their most sensitive data. U.S. law enforcement purchase of such information has raised questions about authorities buying their way to location data that may ordinarily require a warrant to access. But the USSOCOM contract and additional reporting is the first evidence that U.S. location data purchases have extended from law enforcement to military agencies.

Posted on November 19, 2020 at 9:37 AM17 Comments

Comments

Alan November 19, 2020 9:56 AM

I’m assuming “this isn’t the US military” should be “this isn’t just the US military” as otherwise the title would be inaccurate 🙂

David Rudling November 19, 2020 12:03 PM

“U.S. law enforcement purchase of such information has raised questions about authorities buying their way to location data that may ordinarily require a warrant to access. But the USSOCOM contract and additional reporting is the first evidence that U.S. location data purchases have extended from law enforcement to military agencies.”

So?
While questions about potentially unlawful actions by law enforcement are perfectly valid, there is no question of requiring a warrant for collection by the US military of all-source intelligence on potential adversaries. It is what military intelligence are there to do. Some may not like it (and will no doubt be vocal on this blog) but I see a clear distinction between the legitimate actions of the military and the possibly illegitimate actions of law enforcement against citizens.

uh, Mike November 19, 2020 1:13 PM

I was looking for a time tracking app.
I passed up the ones that require that I create an account.
I also avoid the sweepstakes at the end of anonymous surveys.
I don’t check the boxes that say “Remember me.”
A little data hygiene vigilance goes a long way.
Perhaps not far enough, but I find the resistance enjoyable, especially when I google myself and someone else dominates the hits.

lurker November 19, 2020 1:15 PM

@David Rudling:
So the question then is, who is a “potential adversary”? Anyone who is not a member of the US military? And possibly the odd one who is…

David Rudling November 19, 2020 2:20 PM

@lurker
There are probably plenty of readers/contributors on this blog who will happily debate the wider question you ask. My point is simply that the addition to military intelligence sources of one already widely used or misused elsewhere is unremarkable, not illegal and only to be expected.

Winter November 20, 2020 12:30 AM

The only way I know to prevent people from following your tracks is to not leave tracks to follow. But as anyone knows who has made a walk though the snow or the sand, leaving no tracks is extremely difficult.

Also, this is not about the police looking for suspects of law breaking.

The military does want to know where all the people are and where they go because the aim of the military is to use lethal force against people. For the efficient use of lethal force, you must know where the targets of your lethal force are and where the potential collateral damage.

ResearcherZero November 20, 2020 2:12 AM

You have zero privacy, well not even that much sometimes, depending on whatever operation is running at the time, and how very little situational awareness you have. This is good if you are bad, and far less than good if you are good.

If you have ever taken part in any kind of undercover operation, well you would know we are not looked after too well at times, but get excellent emergency medical care, especially when you go down for the count (i.e. hopefully temporary state of death). If you get a result against the worst kind of people, a child abuse trauma specialist abusing his patients (not the worst – but a non classified example), IMHO being dead for a short spell due to the old anesthetic in the leg trick is kind of worth it.

Someone wrote a report on spying on people.
h ttps://thetyee.ca/News/2020/11/16/You-Have-Zero-Privacy-RCMP-Web-Spying/

The irony is that we keep the information on the really, really bad people classified, which makes our job harder and their job easier.

Clive Robinson November 20, 2020 4:06 AM

@ David Rudling,

While questions about potentially unlawful actions by law enforcement are perfectly valid, there is no question of requiring a warrant for collection by the US military of all-source intelligence on potential adversaries.

Actually there is.

As people on the US are noticing the Police and similar LEO’s are becoming militarized. So the LEO’s are seeing warrants and other legal constraints as something to be avoided etc.

Many politicians view such legal constraints likewise and have effectively eviscerated legal constraints when it comes to information not on paper. That is a locked draw of papers the papers are not in plain sight thus protected, but a locked laptop’s contents have been treated as in plain sight, even though it is patently obvious they are not in sight in any way.

But some politicians want to go further way further. They see “collect it all” as a “resource” that is “under utilized” and for which very large sums of money have been paid. Thus they want to increase it’s utility thereby reducing costs in other areas.

That is they think LEO’s should have access to that “collected it all data”.

Thus we have the notion of parallel construction and similar where by what is not legal is given the veneer of leagl “by chance encounter” etc.

Thus we come around to Palantir and similar. Their business model is getting investagative organisations to type in intelligence, that Palantir process for them in various ways. However Palantir are also selling that processed inteligence to other investigative organisations. Effectively they are “Chinese Room” the intel to turn what is not legal into something that looks legal but can not be.

This sort of illegal behaviour with PII and similar will continue step by step untill eventually politicians have the excuse to pass legislation to make it legal.

But this location data we know will get misused by the military, because they have a habit of misusing such meta-data. After all drones have been sent in with helfire missiles on “meta-data” alone and many innocent people have been killed, some of them children.

The simple fact is once people work out what is being done with such data they can “game the system” and will do. After all it’s their life they are looking after, not some unfortunate the US military think is them…

any moose November 20, 2020 11:45 AM

So what? The military is generally prevented from acting as a law enforcement agency against US citizens and residents due to posse comitatus. Only the Coast Guard can do so, until it is taken over by the US Navy during wartime.

Worry about law enforcement, the unions of which are out of control. And US corporations, which are out of control due to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

Clive Robinson November 20, 2020 2:57 PM

@ any moose,

The military is generally prevented from acting as a law enforcement agency against US citizens and residents due to posse comitatus.

Does water flow up hill?

Not without assistance “posse comitatus” deals with people and their uniforms, not information.

Because information goes both ways, the LEO’s can ask questions of the military information source and then go and act on it.

Likewise the military can pass information to LEO’s who can then go and act on it.

In both cases all they have to do is keep knowledge of the information flows from lawyers and courts.

As I mentioned Palantir acts as a “chinese room” where somebody whispers in one side the people in the room “sanatise” the information and whisper it out the other side. So the Mils know from say a comms intercept they got that a bunch of criminals will be shifting a load of guns/drugs/money where and when. They pass this information on and the LEO’s act on it. If challenged in court the LEO’s talk about a “Confidential Informant” making it sound like one of the criminals sold the rest out.

You might say “what’s wrong with that?” and many people might agree with you, but what about when the information handed across is incorrect and then some innocent people get shot and killed by the LEO’s?

Do you realy think that the military are above aranging a “SWATing” by the LEO’s they have trained in military techniques and aranged for them to also have the weapons from “old inventory” to do it?

Yes there are real problems with Police Unions in the US, just the same as their is endemic corruption in some LEO agencies and the local Politico’s that control them (shout out to Chicago and their illegal detention center and Mayor).

As for §230 of the Communications Decency Act, as far as I’m aware those corporations have not SWATed people through it, put people in jail for crimes they did not commit or just took them around the back for a good kicking. Though there are those that argue that the likes of Facebook’s Friends algorithm is tantamount to “aiding the enemy”. But there is quite a lot of politicized nonsense about CDA §230 from Republican’s currently especialy around a Trump EO that came about because somebody put up a “check the facts boys and girls” type warning about his ramblings. But people realy need to seperate the CDA §230 from the political posturing[1] and ambulance chasing lawyers with half baked plans to get billions out of corporations and in the process kill the Internet deader than hydraulic analogue computers.

But §230 as the only surviving asspect of the CDA 1996 has advantages, this blog being one of them. If it was revoked, then the result is that it would turn the likes of Google, Facebook, Twitter and Amazon into an unassailable cartel de jur, rather than an assailable cartel de facto. The legal impediment of a §230 reform would be a regulatory burden that only the big corps could carry, thus it eould kill off any potential competition for them. This as we know from the old heavily regulated telecommunications market leads to exhorbitent pricing and next to no inovation.

So as the old saying has it,

“Be careful what you wish for.”

[1] https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20201021/18135945557/opposite-day-fcc-rejects-all-own-legal-arguments-against-net-neutrality-to-claim-it-can-be-internet-speech-police.shtml

[2] https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20201119/17100845742/bad-analogy-comparing-social-media-to-guns.shtml

any moose November 20, 2020 7:00 PM

@Clive Robinson

There is a world of difference between a SWAT team attacking and a squad of Marines doing so, as the latter has grenades, missiles, tanks, air support, etc. I firmly believe that police departments have become far too militarized, police unions should be eliminated because they protect psychopaths, and police officers should be prosecuted for some of the killings they are involved in, but I’m not worried about true military involvement.

Even though many police officers have military experience, most of the bad officers do not, as the military teaches its service members to be Boy Scouts. Service members run to danger, while some police officers, e.g., at Columbine and Parkland, run away.

Your scenario about the military and law enforcement sharing information is possible, but I find it quite annoying when liberals like you present such a scenario, conservatives are supposed to accept it blindly, while scenarios from conservatives are ridiculed as conspiracy theories and below average movie plots.

As for politics, you have it exactly backwards. Obama employed over 200 Google employees. Biden has interviewed Eric Schmidt. Twitter does not censor the statements of Iran’s Ayatollah that the Holocaust did not happen, yet it does censor the tweets of Republicans who think the election was rigged (it wasn’t, but that’s not the point). Twitter does not censor the doxing of conservatives, yet it completely banned the New York Post — the fourth-largest newspaper in the country — when it tweeted about Hunter Biden’s laptop data.

As for Section 230, we will agree to disagree. It led to widespread use of revenge porn, deep fakes, etc. And I believe that Amazon, Google, Facebook, Twitter, et al, should be broken-up and/or regulated as we used to do with AT&T.

TRX November 21, 2020 3:48 PM

This is the same data that other agencies, like the DEA, ATF, INS, CBP, FBI, Social Security, etc. buy and use in bulk already. And that is used by “fusion centers” to provide police with information they’re not legally allowed to collect on their own.

Given the prevalence of such purchased data by other agencies, why should the military denied it? The horse is well and truly out of that barn.

Clive Robinson November 21, 2020 5:19 PM

@ TRX,

And that is used by “fusion centers” to provide police with information they’re not legally allowed to collect on their own.

I’m glad I’m not the only one who realises this problem is significant.

That said,

… why should the military denied it? The horse is well and truly out of that barn.

I’m of the view that if it’s the paddock gate left open, not all the horses will bolt, therfore closing the gate to stop another horse getting out while you are rounding the horses that have bolted is benificial.

Thus I don’t think the Military or any other agency should be given the opportunity to pass on information illegaly or quasi-illegaly to the detriment of criminals or other defendants.

Why criminals? Well first off there is still the right of “presumed innocence” LEO’s have to provide evidence within the legal rules they have, otherwise how do you differentiate them from scoflaws? Further how do you stop them going from a little rule bending to major rule bending?

Back towards the end of the last century in England there were oddities within the policing structure. One of these was known as “the flying Squad” they had to be disbanded and several criminals released when it became clear thst they had fabricated evidence against people, some of whom were not only entirely innocent of what they had been accused and convicted of but went on to die in jail. In fact some had never been under suspicion of any crime in their lives before the flying squad decided to “fit them up”. I’m fairly certain that there are many such cases in the US system.

But as a matter of legal theory the US legal system is based on the old English “Adversarial System of jurisprudence” which required “equity in arms” that is the legislators via prompting from the judiciary had been based on the theory that the State should not be overpowering, and more importantly it was “better to let guilty men go free than have one innocent man convicted” and for most of that period face execution and later deportation and probable death.

The civil guard labour should never ever be able to avoid “oversight” nor should they ever be alowed to play “investigator, judge and jury” and arbitarily decide people are guilry simply to make their job easier. That path leads only to one place which is the “Show Trials” much beloved of despots, tyrants, dictators, and others running what are called “Police States” or where for political benifit leaders turn a blind eye to guard labour overstepping their bounds.

As I have once said before on this blog one of the most frightening things you can possibly hear is the “for the common good” excuse because people consider themselves to be “the good guys” or occupying “the moral high ground”. Such people always without exception end up “doing bad” but cognative bias will never ever let them admit it, so all to often they “hunker down” like ticks and go into “double down mode” where the “them or us” logic becomes conflict with society. Ranging from “Canteen Mentality” through to outright “Civil Conflict”. The justice process should never be done because it’s cheaper, uses less resources, is faster, is easier or any other mealy mouthed excuse than “proving the case beyond doubt”.

If criminals are assumed to be to clever to catch by traditional means, it is upto the civil guard labour to prove the case before either bending/breaking current legislation or asking for new legislation. Legislators must always make “minimum change minimum harm tightly scoped specific legislation” otherwise the legislation will get not only it’s envelope pushed, but also reporposed for what it was never intended for.

So whilst I would not deny any agency lawful access to such information, it must have very strong legislative constraints and oversight to ensure it remains in tight silos. Such that it can not leak or be leaked to agencies that should not have access either directly from agency to agency or indirectly through third or more parties. Because if we do not do this then it will without doubt be a snowball that gives rise to an avalanche of civil conflict.

Clive Robinson November 21, 2020 7:37 PM

@ JonKnowsNothing,

infiltration with hot-bodies, buff-bears

Actually they were mostly anything but hot/buff…

One of the dirty little secrets of these opperations is that the officers were deliberatly selected by anthropologists and psychologists to be “social matches” that is some toad of a bloke would get assigned to a woman that was a “normalised match” of that age social standing and physical attributes.

One comment that was shal ye say “overheard and relayed on” was essentialy,

“She’s got an arse the size of a hippo, farts like an elephant, the smell of a skunk, teeth that look like a privet hedge and the breath and disposition of a komodo dragon and is atleast twice as poisonous, who’s going to get it on with that?” to which the reply came back “No problem xxxx likes them like that”…

Apparently xxxx set up home with the woman and for atleast three years the Met police stumped up not just the deposit on a large house but the monthly mortgage and utility bills etc. The joke was that when they split, “She got the house and he got sole custody of the cat” which apparently gave him asthma so the cat went to Battersea dogs home, whilst he got medically pensioned off…

And all of this was apparently because she was reportedly friendly with some one called “Swampy” who lived in holes and up trees at the end of runways and similar not large houses… And had upset more than one member of the Cameron family (The Right Honorable David Cameron PM being one of them).

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swampy_(environmentalist)

What is less well known is the Met Police had a “special investigations unit” that was tasked with photographing and identifing lawfal protestors against certain commercial enterprises. The unit having photographed and identified the non law breaking individuals then built up dossiers that were totally illegal under both UK and EU data protection and other legislation. Then the Met Police handed them over to lawyers representing the commercial enterprises. These lawyers then went for civil injunctions and legal fees to bankrupt the lawfal protestors and make them homeless, unemployed etc in a process known as “Rights Stripping”… The excuse for such illegal and immoral activities was “National Security Interests”. As some of the enterprises actually sucked and still do huge quantities of money out of the UK economy and effectively pay no tax or provide any other benifit to the UK including jobs, it would appear very hard to justify “National Security Interests”. Unless of course that includes back handers / kick backs and similar to give money to a political party then in power and various of it’s multi millionair ministers…

To me it sounds more like “nest feathering” than NatSec, but then some say my cynical streak is not what it should be…

JonKnowsNothing November 21, 2020 10:12 PM

@Clive @All

re:Met Police getting a “kick” from their surveillance targets

One of the dirty little secrets of these operations is that the officers were deliberately selected by anthropologists and psychologists to be “social matches” that is some toad of a bloke would get assigned to a woman that was a “normalised match” of that age social standing and physical attributes.

One comment that was shal ye say “overheard and relayed on” was essential,

“She’s got an arse the size of a hippo, farts like an elephant, the smell of a skunk, teeth that look like a privet hedge and the breath and disposition of a komodo dragon and is at least twice as poisonous, who’s going to get it on with that?” to which the reply came back “No problem xxxx likes them like that”…

Well that does make some sense, because the recently published Group Photo of some of the known Officers images show they could vie for an Ugly Dog Contest. There’s the faked injured hands and other duffus poses.

One wonders how they got hired at the Met at all, with the “halo hiring principle” in play; their bosses must appreciate how their own images look in the mirror (“I am sooooo much hotter than that Rod dude”). You might think someone like Trump hired them.

Even so, some went on to have illustrious police careers, without paying a penny in child support, and teaching PsyOps and Undercover-Terrorist-Tactics at a Police and Military Specialty University, consulting with global police units, sharing their expertise in (expletive deleted).

A group of dudettes/dudes are worthy of GCHQ recruiting posters (the GCHQ recent attempt to lure asocial/adhd/autism spectrum folks into joining up for the fun of hacking anything they want).

For those wanting more details here are a few of the known and published names. Some of them have more than one target and more than one alias. There are hundreds of other UnNamed Officers hiding behind “privacy claim shields” :

Bob Lambert, Peter Francis, Mark Kennedy, John Dines, Mark Jenner, ‘Lynn Watson’, ‘Marco Jacobs’, Andy Coles, Mike Chitty, Jim Boyling, ‘Carlo Neri’, ‘Rod Richardson’

ht tps://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2020/oct/28/secrets-and-lies-untangling-the-uk-spy-cops-scandal
(url fractured to prevent autorun)

xcv November 22, 2020 1:28 AM

@ Clive Robinson

One of the dirty little secrets of these opperations is that the officers were deliberatly selected by anthropologists and psychologists to be “social matches” that is some toad of a bloke would get assigned to a woman that was a “normalised match” of that age social standing and physical attributes.

That is Catholicism run amok. There’s an immaculate conception, and women feel beutiful, pure, and clean when men are ugly, foul, and dirty. Cleanliness is next to godliness, and she wants a real devil of a man.

One comment that was shal ye say “overheard and relayed on” was essentialy,

“She’s got an arse the size of a hippo, farts like an elephant, the smell of a skunk, teeth that look like a privet hedge and the breath and disposition of a komodo dragon and is atleast twice as poisonous, who’s going to get it on with that?” to which the reply came back “No problem xxxx likes them like that”…

RINO = Republican In Name Only. Chinese connections. Interpol. It’s the usual City Hall commies stumping a Red State with policies indistinguishable from those of the Blue States

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