If billions of dollars weren’t fueling a massive data market serving businesses, arguably, there wouldn’t be a productized data stream for law enforcement to tap easily. But there is, and they do.
A new report out Thursday from the Center for Democracy and Technology dug deep into documents showing requests from law enforcement and intelligence agencies for data broker products. In its research, CDT found 30 awards for data contracts valued at approximately $86 million in total.
Think mobile location data, real-time social media data, information gathered through license-plate readers and more. Agencies such as the FBI, ICE, CBP, the Marine Corps and Defense Intelligence Agency have contracted with companies including location data provider Venntel and license-plate reader data supplier Vigilant Solutions, owned by Motorola Solutions, to access information to conduct what some call “big data policing.”
Documents show the agencies use those requests for things like pre-investigative inquiries, intelligence gathering, crime prevention or criminal investigations. Because law enforcement agencies can pay commercial data suppliers for information, the report says, they can circumvent the Electronic Communications Privacy Act and the Fourth Amendment, which protects people from unreasonable searches and seizures by the government.
For example, the report mentions a five-year $2.1 million ICE contract with government contractor Barbaricum, a partner of Palantir. The goal was to gather real-time data from Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, LinkedIn, Tumblr, YouTube, Flickr and Pinterest to “identify whether a user has deleted messages and provide content from deleted accounts and/or deleted messages where applicable,” said the CDT report. Non-public information such as deleted messages should require a warrant to obtain, the report emphasized.
“Government agencies have been able to purchase sensitive data from brokers in an end run around otherwise applicable legal requirements,” it states. The report urged Congress to close the legal loopholes, and one thing it said would help do that? Passing Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden’s Fourth Amendment is Not for Sale Act.