Federal government is using data from push notifications to track contacts

Government investigators in the United States have used push notification data to pursue people of interest, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said in a letter Wednesday to the Justice Department, revealing for the first time a way in which Americans can be tracked through a basic service provided by their smartphones.

Wyden’s letter said the Justice Department had prohibited Apple and Google from discussing the technique and asked it to change the rule, noting that his office had received a tip that foreign governments had also begun requesting the push-notification data.

↫ Drew Harwell for The Washington Post

Not surprising, of course. The one nugget of good news here is that while Apple’s policy is to hand over this data after a mere subpoena (“privacy is a fundamental human right“, everybody), Google requires an actual court order, meaning federal officials must convince a judge of the validity of the request. Assuming this is not a nebulous secret backroom deal but a proper judicial process, I’m actually okay with that – law enforcement does need the ability to investigate potential criminals, and as long as this happens within the boundaries of the law and properly overseen and approved by the judiciary every step along the way, I can support it.


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