The Department of Justice and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) department have filed an unprecedented court order demanding Google and Apple hand over location and usage data for an app used to help calibrate gun scopes.
“Never before has a case been disclosed in which American investigators demanded personal data of users of a single app from Apple and Google. And never has an order been made public where the feds have asked the Silicon Valley giants for info on so many thousands of people in one go.“
The app is called Obsidian 4, a tool used to control rifle scopes made by night-vision specialist American Technologies Network Corp.
Over 10,000 users have downloaded the app from Google Play and an unknown number have downloaded it from Apple.
The court order would force Google and Apple to hand over to the feds “not just the names of anyone who downloaded the scope app from August 1, 2017 to the current date, but their telephone numbers and IP addresses too, which could be used to determine the location of the user. The government also wants to know when users were operating the app. ”
The feds claim this data fishing expedition is necessary to track illegal sales of the gun sights to terrorists.
However, the data would also be collected from Americans who have never left the country or have absolutely no ties to terrorists or other illegal activities.
Privacy advocates jumped on the implications of the governments data grab.
Tor Ekeland, a privacy-focused lawyer, said it amounted to a “fishing expedition.” (The DOJ hadn’t responded to a request for comment at the time of publication.)
“The danger is the government will go on this fishing expedition, and they’ll see information unrelated to what they weren’t looking for and go after someone for something else,” Ekeland said. He said there’s a long history of that kind of behavior from the U.S. government. And he warned that the government could apply this demand to other types of app, such as dating or health apps.
“There’s a more profound issue here with the government able to vacuum up a vast amount of data on people they have no reason to suspect have committed any crime. They don’t have any probable cause to investigate, but they’re getting access to data on them,” Ekeland added.
So far, Google and Apple have not complied with the government’s request for the data.
Beyond privacy concerns, there is the very real concern that data like this could be used to by government bureaucrats to create detailed profiles of gun owners and track their movements and location.