The United States Secret Service (USSS) purportedly spent money to buy a product used to track phone location, said Motherboard via Vice. The purchase of Locate X was discovered through an internal USSS contract. The USSS bought the service from a firm called Babel Street.
Locate X is known as a product “that uses location data harvested from ordinary apps” installed in users’ smartphones. Buying this product gives the USSS access to such data, which raised concerns about law enforcement agencies buying data instead of going through a process.
Agencies such as the USSS and the police are required to have a warrant or court order in order to obtain information like location data. With Locate X, the agency can access important information without a warrant.
The Motherboard article is not the first time that this incident has been made public. Technology publication Protocol reported in March that several government organizations signed deals with Babel Street.
The deals, which were worth millions of dollars, were regarding the purchase of Locate X. Multiple informants told Protocol about the product’s precise function, which is to “[track] the location of devices anonymously.”
Protocol’s report said that the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the Secret Service signed the deal. The tech publication obtained info about the two agencies through public records and s former Babel Street employees, respectively.
The motherboard was able to obtain an internal contract through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. This proves that the Secret Service also purchased the product, supporting the claim of the former Babel Street employee.
Regarding this matter, Senator Ron Wyden said, “As part of my investigation into the sale of Americans’ private data, my office has pressed babel Street for answers about where data comes from, who they sell it to, and whether they respect mobile device opt-outs.”
However, Wyden said that Babel Street denied any request for answers and declined to answer calls.
Motherboard noted that a wide variety of applications gather location data, including weather and navigation apps, as well as games. Such info is typically used to improve the service of the app.
Many companies sell such information to data brokers and other firms who use such info to improve their own products.
However, government agencies become more and more involved with such data including the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Internal Revenue Services which purchased a location data product from Venntel.
Aside from Locate X, the FOIA documents also revealed that the USSS also purchased an open-source intelligence product from Babel Street which could monitor social media networks.