An anonymous reader quotes a report from Motherboard: The IRS was able to query a database of location data quietly harvested from ordinary smartphone apps over 10,000 times, according to a copy of the contract between IRS and the data provider obtained by Motherboard. The document provides more insight into what exactly the IRS wanted to do with a tool purchased from Venntel, a government contractor that sells clients access to a database of smartphone movements. The Inspector General is currently investigating the IRS for using the data without a warrant to try to track the location of Americans. “This contract makes clear that the IRS intended to use Venntel’s spying tool to identify specific smartphone users using data collected by apps and sold onwards to shady data brokers. The IRS would have needed a warrant to obtain this kind of sensitive information from AT&T or Google,” Senator Ron Wyden told Motherboard in a statement after reviewing the contract. […]
One of the new documents says Venntel sources the location information from its “advertising analytics network and other sources.” Venntel is a subsidiary of advertising firm Gravy Analytics. The data is “global,” according to a document obtained from CBP. Venntel then packages that data into a user interface and sells access to government agencies. A former Venntel worker previously told Motherboard that customers can use the product to search a specific area to see which devices were there, or follow a particular device across time. Venntel provides its own pseudonymous ID to each device, but the former worker said users could try to identify specific people. The new documents say that the IRS’ purchase of an annual Venntel subscription granted the agency 12,000 queries of the dataset per year.
“In support of Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Criminal Investigation’s (CI) law enforcement investigative mission, the Cyber Crimes Unit (CCU) requires one (1) Venntel Mobile Intelligence web-based subscription,” one of the documents reads. “This allows tracing and pattern-of-life analysis on locations of interesting criminal investigations, allowing investigators to trace locations of mobile devices even if a target is using anonymizing technologies like a proxy server, which is common in cyber investigations,” it adds.
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