The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is launching an inspector general (IG) investigation into Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) warrantless tracking of phones after an inquiry from Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii.

Back in October, the group of Democratic senators wrote a letter to DHS requesting the IG investigation, asserting that CBP could not provide legal analysis it conducted to determine that its tracking did not require warrants to which CBP confirmed.

“CBP is not above the law and refused to answer questions about purchasing people’s mobile location history without a warrant— including from shady data brokers like Venntel,” Sen. Warren said in a press release announcing the investigation. “I’m glad that the Inspector General agreed to our request to investigate this potentially unconstitutional abuse of power by the CBP because we must protect the public’s Fourth Amendment rights to be free from warrantless searches.”

CBP has paid government contractor, Venntel, nearly half a million dollars for access to a commercial database storing location data from applications on phones from millions of Americans. According to the press release, Sens. Warren and Wyden had previously and successfully pushed for an IG investigation into the Internal Revenue Service’s use of Venntel’s commercial location service without a court order.

“If Federal agencies are tracking American citizens without warrants, the public deserves answers and accountability,” Sen. Wyden said. “I won’t accept anything less than a thorough and swift inspector general investigation that sheds light on CBP’s phone location data surveillance program.”

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Jordan Smith
Jordan Smith
Jordan Smith is a MeriTalk Staff Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.
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