Big Brother: What Can Americans Do After Learning The Federal Government Illegally Tracked Their Phones?

By Rachel Morris | Friday, 13 May 2022 16:45
3 debators
2220

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) demands answers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) about its efforts to track Americans through location data from cell phones during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a letter sent to CDC Director Rochelle Walensky on May 5, Johnson challenged the agency’s alleged use of location data. He demanded answers as to why this was allowed and whether it is still ongoing.

“It remains unclear why the CDC tracked millions of Americans during the pandemic and whether it continues to do so. In response to COVID-19, the CDC should have been prioritizing the development of treatments, effective testing, and vaccine safety rather than tracking Americans’ daily lives,” Johnson wrote.

Johnson mentioned a report by Vice News that said, referring to agency documents it received through a Freedom of Information Act request, that the CDC obtained one year of location data “from at least 20 million active cell phone users per day.”

The CDC’s potential uses for the data acquired from SafeGraph included tracking the patterns of people visiting primary schools, studying how curfews and border restrictions curtailed movement, and the effectiveness of policies on the Navajo Nation, according to the documents.

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They also showed the CDC planned to use the data for issues not related to COVID-19, such as monitoring “population migration before, during, and after natural disasters.”

A contract approved on April 16, 2021, showed the CDC paid SafeGraph $420,000.

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According to its website, SafeGraph is “building a company that is narrowly focused on making data an open platform for all” and holds information including points of interest, spatial hierarchy metadata, foot traffic data, spending patterns, and more.

SafeGraph previously provided the CDC and other organizations the data without cost, saying it wanted to help them “address the Coronavirus’s impact.” The CDC was using the data to “better understand where COVID-19 has the potential to spread the most by analyzing foot traffic to businesses to identify whether or not social distancing measures are being respected at the neighborhood level,” the company wrote in a blog post.

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The CDC published several studies that examined the data, including one that found lockdown orders were tied with decreased population movement.

To better comprehend why the CDC purchased such data and what it planned to do with it, Johnson asked the agency to provide him with answers, including whether its use of location data was the only mechanism employed to monitor Americans during the pandemic, who at the CDC approved the use and purchase of the location data, and the names of the companies that supply the agency with location data.

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