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Cellphone data used in immigration matters

| Feb 10, 2020 | Immigration Detention |

Immigrants in the United States might need to be cautious in the way they use cellphones. Thanks to the procurement of licenses the government purchased, the feds can extricate location-specific data from various sources. One such license is for a commercial database that keeps track of cellphone movement. It is being reported that the information from this database is being used to detect undocumented immigrants.

There are other programs to which the government has access, but there isn’t any word on how various agencies and departments will use the information from those. While it appears that this is perfectly lawful, some are questioning the validity of the government using surveillance meant for commercial purposes. Those individuals are calling for stronger laws protecting privacy.

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) notes that the bulk information doesn’t include individual user identity, and the reports don’t include cellular phone tower data. This is an important distinction because the data from towers has been given extra protection by the Supreme Court.

The issue of the government receiving individual data is troublesome enough, but the fact that this method seems to skirt around a landmark ruling made in 2018 on Carpenter v. United States is more troubling. Government lawyers claim the ruling, which limits the ability of law enforcement to obtain data from cellphone companies before obtaining court supervision, doesn’t apply here since the government is acting as a commercial purchaser.

While the purchases the government made won’t impact all immigrants, it is imperative that everyone keeps a close watch on these matters. Learning about what the government is allowed to do and what it can’t do can offer methods to use to protect your interests. Being proactive can help current and future immigrants, as well as those pursuing naturalization, know what might be considered in their cases.


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