American Civil Liberties Union v. Department of Homeland Security, 1:20-cv-10083 (S.D.N.Y., filed Dec. 2, 2020).
Many modern cell phone applications routinely gather users’ location information and sell it to third parties, who then use it for marketing and other purposes. In February 2020, the Wall Street Journal reported that Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) were purchasing location information from private companies and using it to locate and arrest noncitizens. One company, Venntel, appears to be selling access to a large database to DHS, CBP, and ICE. This raises serious concerns that CBP and ICE are evading Fourth Amendment protections by purchasing location information instead of obtaining warrants.
In February 2020, the ACLU filed Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests with DHS, CBP, and ICE seeking: (1) records of contracts, letters of commitments, and other agreements concerning government access to or receipt of cell phone location information; (2) all communications with or about Venntel Inc.; (3) policies, guidelines, memoranda, and trainings relating to government access and use of cell phone information purchased from commercial vendors; (4) formal legal analysis concerning access to commercial databases containing cell phone location information purchased from a commercial vendor; (5) records sufficient to show the volume of cell phone location data contained in commercial databases for which DHS, CBP, and ICE have purchased access; (6) records showing how many times each year DHS, CBP, and ICE employees or contractors have accessed such databases; and (7) records concerning the use of commercially purchased cell phone information in any court application, trial, hearing, or other proceeding.
On December 2, 2020, the ACLU filed a complaint seeking to compel CBP, ICE, and DHS to conduct adequate searches for the records they requested through FOIA. Defendants filed their answer on January 27, 2021, and production in response to ACLU’s FOIA request is ongoing.
Counsel: ACLU Foundation Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project
Contact: Nathan Freed Wessler, ACLU Foundation | (212) 549-2500 | firstname.lastname@example.org
• Brian Tau and Michelle Hackman, Federal Agencies Use Cellphone Location Data for Immigration Enforcement, The Wall Street Journal, Feb. 7, 2020.