WASHINGTON DC (Axios): The Defense Intelligence Agency has purchased cellphone data from commercial brokers that can track American and other app users’ movements, according to an unclassified memo provided to the New York Times.
Between the lines: It’s unsurprising that U.S. intelligence agencies are trying to use commercially available (and relatively cheap) data to circumvent collection restrictions. But U.S. intelligence agencies are still supposed to face limits on their use of this data when it comes to users on U.S. soil.
The data streams do not separate Americans’ geolocation information from non-Americans’ user information, so the DIA “processes the location data as it arrives to identify U.S. location data points, that it segregates in a separate database,” according to the memo. Use of this separate U.S.-only location database requires the DIA to seek approval from agency lawyers and leadership, says the memo. The DIA has received “permission to query” this data set five times in the last 2½ years, says the memo.
The memo does not elaborate on how often, or to what end, this data has been used to track non-American users’ data.
According to the memo, the DIA believes that existing legal precedent does not “require a judicial warrant endorsing purchase or use of commercially-available data for intelligence purposes.”
Flashback: Vice previously reported that another Pentagon entity, U.S. Spe-cial Operations Command, has also purchased commercially available geolocation data via brokerage firms for counterterrorism purposes, including access to data derived from a Muslim prayer app that has been downloaded over 98 million times worldwide.
The app, called Muslim Pro, helps users situate themselves toward Mecca for prayer.
Our thought bubble: If U.S. spy agencies can acce-ss these tranches, it’s a good bet that foreign intelligence services — including hostile services — can too, with far fewer internal restrictions governing their use.