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Federal Agencies Use Location Data for Immigration Enforcement

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After buying access to a database containing the location data of millions of smartphone users across the country, the Trump administration gained one more tool to locate and identify immigrants who may be undocumented. A recent report by The Wall Street Journal describes what may well be one of the largest federal law enforcement uses of bulk data ever. Contained in the database are millions of records gathered from users who agree to share their location with various smartphone apps. The use of location information for immigration purposes raises important ethical questions about how and why the information is collected and if cell phone users are aware this is happening.

Smartphone Location Records Used as a Tool for Enforcing Immigration

While it is not fully clear how federal immigration agencies plan to use location data to track immigrants, some insiders say it is already being used to detect cell phone activity in unusual places, such as remote stretches of desert that straddle the Mexican border. The Wall Street Journal reports the Department of Homeland Security has used location information to find and detain undocumented immigrants.

This is not the first time this type of data has been used for immigration purposes. In 2017, the Detroit News published a report on how local immigration agents used a mobile phone simulator to monitor undocumented immigrants in the Detroit area, including one restaurant worker from El Salvador in the United States without residential status. These simulators work by acting as cell phone towers, linking nearby phones and giving the government access to various information contained in the phone.

Questions About Legality and Ethics of Tracking User Locations

In 2018, the Supreme Court ruled that law enforcement agencies must have warrants to collect users’ phone records, but the government seems to have found a way around this obstacle. By purchasing the data from third-party companies, they have indirect access to user information. Instead of going through traditional law enforcement channels to get this delicate information, they are essentially consumers buying a product. In The Wall Street Journal article, a United States Customs and Border Protection spokesperson reminds the public this data does not include locations of nearby cell phone towers or their identities. If you have questions or concerns about how this recent immigration development may impact your privacy, contact an experienced Philadelphia immigration lawyer for answers.

Philadelphia Immigration Lawyers at Surin & Griffin, P.C. Help Clients with All Types of Citizenship Issues

It is concerning to know the government has one more tool in their arsenal to enforce immigration policies and potentially remove undocumented foreign nationals. At Surin & Griffin, P.C., our skilled Philadelphia immigration lawyers protect your rights, regardless of your status. We take the time and care your case demands, guiding you through every step of the immigration process to reach a positive outcome. To learn more about how we can help, call 215-925-4435 or contact us online to schedule an initial consultation. Located in Philadelphia, we serve clients throughout Pennsylvania and across the nation.  

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