IRS is being investigated for buying location data from apps installed on cell phones to ‘try to find criminals without a warrant’
- The IRS bought the data from Venntel, an analytics company which purchases it from marketing companies
- The marketing companies buy the information from the apps but it’s unclear which apps ones
- The IRS is said to have used it the information to try to find out where certain criminal suspects lived
- They say they were unsuccessful but Senators Ron Wyden and Elizabeth Warren are asking for an investigation
- They question if it was legal for them to purchase the information without a warrant as part of a criminal probe
- Venntel has also sold to other parts of government for various reasons
- The Trump administration bought data to track migrants, it was previously reported
The IRS is being investigated for buying location data from apps installed on people’s phones to try to find criminal suspects without obtaining a proper warrant for the information.
It is among a handful of government departments that has been known to purchase the data from Venntel, a Virginia-based analytics company.
Venntel buys it first from private marketing companies who buy it from apps which have been granted access to a person’s location services on their phone.
Then, it sells it on – mostly to advertisers – but also branches of government.
It’s unclear which apps sell to Venntel and which of those apps the various government departments is most interested in.
It has previously been reported that they are mostly weather trackers and games.
The government has been buying information from Venntel which maps people’s movements based on their cell phone location data
The IRS claims it used it to track down criminal suspects, according to VICE. In this case, it was looking for a handful of suspects but they did not find them.
Nevertheless, the IRS Criminal Investigation Division is now investigating on the insistence of Senators Ron Wyden and Elizabeth Warren.
One of Wyden’s aides told VICE that the IRS used the data to track people at night to determine where they were living, and that they were looking for specific individuals but didn’t find them.
They are questioning if it was lawful for the IRS to even access the information as part of an investigation without a warrant.
In a letter, the IRS Criminal Investigation Division is asking former staff of Venntel and Babel Street if they ever sold information to the IRS.
‘Do you work at Venntel, Babel Street, or other company providing location data to the government? Did you used to?
Democratic Senators Ron Wyden and Elizabeth Warren are pushing the probe
‘Do you know anything else about the sale of location data? We’d love to hear from you,’ the letter reads.
In a letter to the IRS, Inspector General J. Russell George, said: ‘We are going to conduct a review of this matter, and we are in the process of contacting the CI [Criminal Investigation] division about this review.’
Venntel has also sold to other parts of government for various reasons. The Trump administration bought data to track migrants, it was previously reported.
In February, the Wall Street Journal reported that the government was using data to track migrants along the border.
The Journal cited unnamed government officials who said the government was buying the data like any other commercial customer, but was then using it to track migrants along the border.
Specifically, they have looked for patches of desert or land that would ordinarily be deserted to try to hone in on people sneaking into the country.
The House Committee on Oversight and Reform launched a wider-ranging investigation into Venntel’s sale of information to the government in June.
In a letter at the time, the Democratic lawmakers calling for it said: ‘The vast majority of Americans carry cellphones with apps capable of collecting precise location information 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
‘This location-tracking raises serious privacy and security concerns.’
Venntel has not commented on its sale of data to the government.
Customs and Border Patrol agents have used the data to monitor movements along the border