In December 2020, the ACLU and NYCLU filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit seeking records from Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and other parts of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) about their practice of purchasing cell phone location data collected from smartphone apps.

Without users realizing it, apps regularly sell users’ location information to other, third-party companies like Venntel and Babel Street, who use it for marketing and other purposes. These third-party companies then compile and market the data to government agencies.

In 2018, the Supreme Court ruled in Carpenter v. United States that the government needs a warrant to obtain cell phone location information from people’s cellular service providers due to the “near perfect surveillance” such information provides. Our FOIA lawsuit seeks information about how the government justifies its end run around the Supreme Court’s Fourth Amendment ruling, how it uses the location records, and what controls are in place to protect Americans’ privacy.

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