Washington (February 12, 2020) – Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Ranking Member of the Security Subcommittee of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, sent a letter to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Acting Secretary Chad F. Wolf after media reports that the agency has purchased data tracking the physical location of millions of individuals and, without search warrants, is using that information for immigration enforcement purposes. Dating back to 2017, DHS has reportedly paid a private company, Venntel Inc., for access to information about the physical location of individuals and their mobile devices. In his letter, Senator Markey notes that this activity “appears to contravene the spirit, if not the letter” of the Carpenter v. United States Supreme Court case, in which the Court found that the government will generally need a search warrant supported by probable cause in order to access cell phone location data.    


“In effect, DHS seems to thumb its nose at the Supreme Court by engaging in warrantless cellphone location tracking of individuals in order to expand the reach of its merciless deportation force,” writes Senator Markey.“Tracking like this is completely inconsistent with — and has disturbing and chilling effects on — the privacy protections our Constitution guarantees.”


A copy of Senator Markey’s letter can be found HERE.


In his letter, Senator Markey requests responses to questions that include:

  • What are all of the contracts or other agreements between DHS and any non-government entities under which DHS is purchasing or otherwise accessing individuals’ location data, including all substantive terms?
  • Does the Enforcement and Removal Operations directorate under Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have access to location data DHS obtains under these contracts or other agreements? 
  • What reasons, if any, did DHS give to Ventell Inc. or any other non-government entities as to why DHS was purchasing location data from them?
  • How specifically is DHS using purchased location data? If uses differ between U.S. Customs and Border Protection and ICE, please describe those differences.
  • Has ICE ever used this location data for routine deportation operations? If yes, in how many instances? If not, does ICE have any plans to use the data for those purposes?
  • What legal standard, if any, does DHS believe applies to the access and use of location information from Ventell Inc. or other commercial sources of this type of data? Does DHS believe a search warrant or other court order is ever required?  
  • Has location information that DHS has purchased ever been breached or inappropriately accessed? If so, please describe when and how that occurred.