A senator investigating reports of the DoD tracking US citizens without warrants says that he is unable to share his findings with the public. Senator Ron Wyden says that, although he received responses from the Department of Defense, the answers given to him included classified information.

Wyden is calling for the DoD to release the information to the public in order to determine whether the people consider its actions acceptable …


It is common for apps to sell data to data brokers, which includes location data. Although this is intended to be anonymized for privacy, previous reports have shown that it can often be trivially tied to specific individuals.

Two reports last year claimed that US government agencies buy this data. A freedom of information request in August appeared to confirm that the US Secret Service bought smartphone location data harvested from popular apps, and a separate one later the same year said that the US military did the same, including data from Muslim prayer and dating apps.

DoD tracking US citizens

Motherboard reports: 

Senator Wyden’s office asked the Department of Defense (DoD), which includes various military and intelligence agencies such as the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), for detailed information about its data purchasing practices after Motherboard revealed special forces were buying location data.

The responses also touched on military or intelligence use of internet browsing and other types of data, and prompted Wyden to demand more answers specifically about warrantless spying on American citizens.

Some of the answers the DoD provided were given in a form that means Wyden’s office cannot legally publish specifics on the surveillance; one answer in particular was classified.

In the letter Wyden is pushing the DoD to release the information to the public. A Wyden aide told Motherboard that the Senator is unable to make the information public at this time, but believes it would meaningfully inform the debate around how the DoD is interpreting the law and its purchases of data.

Wyden said that while he couldn’t reveal the classified answer to one of his questions, he can share the question that prompted it.

“Are any DoD components buying and using without a court order internet metadata, including ‘netflow’ and Domain Name System (DNS) records,” the question read, and asked whether those records were about “domestic internet communications (where the sender and recipient are both U.S. IP addresses)” and “internet communications where one side of the communication is a U.S. IP address and the other side is located abroad.

The fact that the response was classified strongly implies that the answer is yes.

Wyden says that the response he received should not be classified, since it does not meet the requirement for classification – namely, that publication of it would damage national security.

Another question whose answer Wyden cannot share is:

Other than DIA, are any DoD components buying and using without a court order location data collected from phones located in the United States?

Wyden has bipartisan support for a bill that would force government agencies to obtain warrants before obtaining this type of data: The Fourth Amendment Is Not For Sale Act. The Fourth Amendment protects people from “unreasonable” searches by the government.

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

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Ben Lovejoy

Ben Lovejoy is a British technology writer and EU Editor for 9to5Mac. He’s known for his op-eds and diary pieces, exploring his experience of Apple products over time, for a more rounded review. He also writes fiction, with two technothriller novels, a couple of SF shorts and a rom-com!

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