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Palm Beach County Immigration Attorney > Blog > Immigration > Government is Using Data From Apps to Track Immigrants’ Location

Government is Using Data From Apps to Track Immigrants’ Location


Our cell phones contain our most personal information. That’s why in most criminal cases, police need a warrant to search a phone. The law recognizes that anything we put into a phone is personal, private information, and courts have even recognized that the GPS/location tracking data that cell phones transmit and track, are also private.

The Use of Location Data in Immigration

Yet, that privacy does not seem to be a concern for the government when it comes to immigration. A recent article has brought to light the government’s new policy of using cell phone data to track immigrants. According to the report the government bought a commercial database, which could be purchased by any company that wanted to track people, or collect data on them.

The location information comes from apps that are commonly installed on our cellphones, many of which track our location, and save the places that we’ve been. For example, a user may be on a social media site—Facebook, Instagram or Twitter—and the app’s data tracking functions will tell the app where the user is, and deliver or display an ad for a business that is close to the user’s location.

Most of the apps require users to give permission to track them, but in most cases, users give that OK without thinking about how it may affect them.

What the Data is Being Used For

In some cases, the Department of Homeland Security is using the data to track people in unusual locations—for example, in an empty desert near the border, a place where they may be likely to be trying to cross the border. In one case, federal agents found an underground tunnel that crossed the border using cellphone data.

The use of the information started off with a good purpose—to track human and drug-smugglers. But the data eventually was shared with ICE, which now is using it to track down immigrants.

The legality of the government’s use of the data has not been determined by any court. However, because the government is simply buying data on the open market that would be available to anybody who wanted to purchase it, the use of the information could be constitutional.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) bought close to $200,000 worth of licenses and data. Officially, the Department will not say what it uses the data for. However, many are certain that the data collected is being used by ICE to track illegal immigrants, and conduct immigration raids.

The government did point out that the data being collected does not contain any individual user’s identity, and that it is not collecting data from cell phone “pings” that bounce off of cell phone towers. It also says that the data does not play any role in “routine deportation operations.”

If you are in trouble with Ice, or immigration officials, get help immediately. Contact the Palm Beach County immigration attorneys at Devore Law Group to help you with your immigration questions.





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