Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Edward J. Markey, D-Mass.,
and Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, today announced that the Department of Homeland
Security (DHS) will launch an inspector general investigation into Customs and
Border Protection’s (CBP) warrantless tracking of phones in the United States
following an inquiry
from the senators
earlier this year.
federal agencies are tracking American citizens without warrants, the public
deserves answers and accountability,” Wyden
said. “I won’t accept anything less than a thorough and swift inspector
general investigation that sheds light on CBP’s phone location data
is not above the law and refused to answer questions about purchasing people’s
mobile location history without a warrant -- including from shady data
brokers like Venntel. I’m glad that the Inspector General agreed to our request
to investigate this potentially unconstitutional abuse of power by the CBP
because we must protect the public's Fourth amendment rights to be free from
Senator Warren said.
are increasingly concerned that they cannot travel, move, or go about their
daily lives without being tracked. Information about where we are and where we
have been is highly sensitive, and it’s time for answers about exactly how the
Department of Homeland Security is accessing this type of data. I am proud to
partner with Senator Wyden on this effort to uncover and stop any inappropriate
or unlawful surveillance that may be taking place. The right to privacy must
not become a thing of the past,”
revealed by public contracts, CBP has paid a government contractor named
Venntel nearly half a million dollars for access to a commercial database
containing location data mined from applications on millions of Americans’
mobile phones. CBP officials also confirmed the agency’s warrantless tracking
of phones in the United States using Venntel’s product in a September 16, 2020
call with Senate staff.
2018, the Supreme Court held in Carpenter v. United States that the collection
of significant quantities of historical location data from Americans’ cell
phones is a search under the Fourth Amendment and therefore requires a warrant.
September 2020, Wyden and Warren successfully pressed for an inspector general
investigation into the Internal Revenue Service’s use of Venntel’s commercial
location tracking service without a court order.
copy of DHS’ letter opening its inspector general investigation is available here
copy of the senators’ October 2020 letter is available here
U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, also joined the senators in sending the
October 2020 request.