The FBI’s acquisition of US citizens’ location data from smartphone apps without a judicial warrant has sparked outrage among privacy rights activists. This activity is yet another example of the Bureau’s disregard for basic civil liberties and its persistent violation of constitutional right to privacy.
Christopher Wray, director of the office, announced during a Senate hearing on global threats that his agency had previously collected information for an undisclosed national security-related endeavor. However, he affirmed that this practice has since been terminated and all data necessary for investigations is being legally obtained.
For the first time, the office has finally confessed to purchasing US citizen’s location data without obtaining a court order. This admission confirms what human rights associations have been saying for years: that the FBI is disregarding citizens’ privacy.
Despite the US Supreme Court ruling that access to citizens’ location data without a court order was unconstitutional, various federal agencies such as Customs and Border Protection and Defense Intelligence Agency still took advantage of this legal loophole. Moreover, it is now known that Homeland Security has purchased American’s personal information from private marketing firms in the past.
Predictably, the decision to allow FBI access has caused an uproar among digital rights activists and privacy organizations who are concerned that this could lead to a serious erosion of Americans’ freedom and privacy online.
As Adam Schwartz, Senior Attorney of the EFF stated to Ars Technica, “It is unacceptable for U.S. government agencies to make use of data brokers that accumulate incredibly sensitive personal information without our knowledge or permission in order to circumvent Article IV of the Constitution”. This involves extremely confidential details such as where we dwell, work and associate with others; even disclosing which places we visit for spiritual reflection, demonstrations and medical attention.
Sean Vitka, an attorney from Demand Progress – a civil liberties advocacy group – expressed his indignation towards the FBI’s measures as “horrifying”. He also appealed to the public for more transparency on who authorized such purchases and their intent. To combat these issues further, he urged for new laws banning this practice altogether.