Information revealed the exploitation of Fog Reveal, a technology similar to Google Maps, by police in around two dozen agencies, one record indicates the number may reach 60.
According to the company’s 2019 marketing materials, Fog Reveal, licensed by Fog Data Science, allows state and local authorities authority to monitor “hundreds of billions of records from 250 million mobile devices.”
It turns out that’s because many local police departments purposefully keep quiet about the covert technology they employ to monitor ordinary persons, often without a warrant.
What might be regarded as the best-kept secret of the local police has been made public this week thanks to an investigation by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Associated Press with funding from the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting. Their findings exposed the potentially excessive level of data collection that might be used to track and expose regular people just for moving around small-town America.
Before purchasing the program, a Maryland-based sergeant praised the advantage of “no court paperwork” in a department email, stating that “The success lies in the secrecy.”
EFF discovered that Fog Reveal obtains its data from Venntel, the same repository the federal government uses. Fog Reveal appears to offer location data services to local police at a significant discount as a result of their cooperation with Venntel, even though neither company disclosed the specifics of their business arrangement to AP or EFF. Smaller police departments and private security firms can now access large amounts of data and track devices over months or even years at a lower cost.
The EFF discovered that police departments typically pay between $6,000 and $9,000 each year to license the software. However, other organizations were prepared to invest more money on the technology. In Anaheim, California, Ars examined a yearly agreement worth more than $40,000.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation gathered thousands of pages of data over the course of several months and more than 100 records requests in order to paint a complete picture of how local law enforcement is increasingly mining location data. Records revealed that Fog Reveal had been used in criminal investigations, including “tracing the movements of a potential participant in the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol,” according to the Press.
Fog Reveal has been crucial to police in order to save time and money on investigations, according to managing partner of Fog Data Science Matthew Broderick, who told AP that police were under-resourced and investigations suffered from reliance on out-of-date technology.
Fog Reveal was no longer being used by some authorities, according to EFF, because it couldn’t support investigations with enough material on its own. Additionally, it discovered at least one case where a sergeant questioned if employing Fog Reveal was legal in light of Carpenter v. United States. Wireless carriers were determined to be unable to provide the Federal Bureau of Investigation with location data in that case because doing so would have gone against the suspect’s reasonable expectation of privacy.
EFF claims that Fog Reveal promotes police to treat surrounding residents with suspicion just because they were close to the scene of a crime when it happened for persons who live in heavily policed regions. Police “could easily see your device located near the crime and recommend you for more surveillance,” according to an EFF warning.
According to the EFF, significant changes to the widespread police surveillance of the public won’t likely occur until Congress enacts legislation governing data privacy and online advertising that would forbid extensive data tracking and stifle the billion-dollar location data market.
There is a lot of information available regarding how the federal government uses location data to investigate crime in America by serving warrants to significant internet corporations like Google or Facebook. The impact of location information on state and local law enforcement investigations, however, is far less well understood.