Through Apps, Not Warrants, ‘Locate X’ allows Federal Law Enforcement to Track Phones

When reading this story the first question that pops of course is whether the use of this app is violating 4th Amendment rights. The use of an app called Locate X is a basic software program designed to track cell phone usage by law enforcement agencies by a method known as “geo-spacing” which doesn’t necessary track individual data per say, but the cell phones themselves that are in a particular area at a given time. According to some law enforcement official, its basically a lead generator and is used specifically for investigating terrorist activity. For example, if a bombing occurred at a particular place what law enforcement investigators can do is use the data to find out what cell phones were in the vincinity at the time and track their movements going back days, weeks and months. If such investigations turns up that a cell phone came from Saudi Arabia then investigators can determine and narrow down their leads as to who was responsible. The linked article that published this story revealed that a Virginia based company called Babel has sold millions of dollars in contracts with US law enforcement agencies including recently by CBP. So the question that needs to be asked, given the issue of FISA so hot on everybody’s minds as the renewal of its policies is a contentious subject of debate with the public, does this violate 4th amendment rights, or does this set precedent for future abuses to occur?

U.S. law enforcement agencies signed millions of dollars worth of contracts with a Virginia company after it rolled out a powerful tool that uses data from popular mobile apps to track the movement of people’s cell phones, according to federal contracting records and six people familiar with the software.

The product, called Locate X and sold by Babel Street, allows investigators to draw a digital fence around an address or area, pinpoint mobile devices that were within that area, and see where else those devices have traveled, going back months, the sources told Protocol.

They said the tool tracks the location of devices anonymously, using data that popular cell phone apps collect to enable features like mapping or targeted ads, or simply to sell it on to data brokers.

Through apps, not warrants, ‘Locate X’ allows federal law enforcement to track phones

Federal agencies have big contracts with Virginia-based Babel Street. Depending on where you’ve traveled, your movements may be in the company’s data.

U.S. law enforcement agencies signed millions of dollars worth of contracts with a Virginia company after it rolled out a powerful tool that uses data from popular mobile apps to track the movement of people’s cell phones, according to federal contracting records and six people familiar with the software.

The product, called Locate X and sold by Babel Street, allows investigators to draw a digital fence around an address or area, pinpoint mobile devices that were within that area, and see where else those devices have traveled, going back months, the sources told Protocol.

They said the tool tracks the location of devices anonymously, using data that popular cell phone apps collect to enable features like mapping or targeted ads, or simply to sell it on to data brokers.

Babel Street has kept Locate X a secret, not mentioning it in public-facing marketing materials and stipulating in federal contracts that even the existence of the data is “confidential information.” Locate X must be “used for internal research purposes only,” according to terms of use distributed to agencies, and law enforcement authorities are forbidden from using the technology as evidence — or mentioning it at all — in legal proceedings.

Federal records show that U.S. Customs and Border Protection purchased Locate X, and the Secret Service and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement also use the location-tracking technology, according to a former Babel Street employee. Numerous other government agencies have active contracts with Reston-based Babel Street, records show, but publicly available contract information does not specify whether other agencies besides CBP bought Locate X or other products and services offered by the company.

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I get what you are saying, and I don’t like the government doing this, but if they are simply using an app that relies on data that people willingly share with private companies that then willingly give it all away then it isn’t really a violation of anyone’s rights because the people using those apps have consented to handing over their data in advance.

From the looks of the federal agencies that are using this it doesn’t appear that they are going after American citizens anyway, so that doesn’t upset me too much.

Plus… we already have unlimited warrantless spying on US citizens through the NSA. Snowden showed us that and not a damn thing was done about it.

That’s why it’s important to keep everything encrypted.

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I don’t agree with you that there is nothing really to worry about with this since now everyone who is not a white liberal is considered a white nationalist, which is worse than ISIS. There is plenty to worry about there.

I do agree with you on the encryption. It’s why the government wants to ban it. Which means its effective and should be used widely.

This is so important and yet so many people don’t bother with it. Everyone should be using a VPN at this point and making sure that they have the highest level of encryption established on any device or app they are using. If apps don’t have encryption, or hand over your data to anyone, then don’t use those apps.

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No mention of a warrant needed. The government has intruded on lives far to much and far to long.
All we need is despicable people like Strozk etc go after percieved enemies of the state.
This is a violation of our 4th Ammendment rights . BIG BROTHER IS STILL AMONG US.

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Insecurity complex and skepticism leads to spying by government officials. This has likely been the case since mankind began controlling mankind.

Often I leave my phone at home when I make short trips. I generally let my children know where I’m going and that I will not be responding to the phone for a while.

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