Dark Reading is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Risk

DOJ Wants Wireless Carriers To Collect Location Data

Congress worries that location-based information could be misused by tech companies, but the DOJ wants to use it to catch criminals.

Obama's Tech Tools
(click image for larger view)
Slideshow: Obama's Tech Tools
The Department of Justice (DOJ) is calling for laws requiring wireless carriers to store user location data that could be helpful to criminal investigations in which a person's location is critical to solving the crime.

The request came, ironically enough, in the middle of a Senate hearing at which lawmakers grilled Apple and Google executives over their collection and use of location-based data from iPad, iPhone, and Android devices.

Jason Weinstein, deputy assistant attorney general for the Criminal Division of the DOJ, Tuesday testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law that it would be useful if companies that have access to smartphone location data could provide that information lawfully to criminal investigators.

The DOJ is particularly interested in the data as it pertains to investigations about cyber crimes that target mobile devices, child abductions, and others in which a mobile phone user's location is crucial, he said.

"Even though we encounter users who use their smartphones and devices as they would use a computer, many wireless providers do not maintain the records necessary to trace the IP address to a smartphone," Weinstein said. "Law enforcement must be able to get the data it needs to identify these crimes successfully and identify the perpetrators."

Weinstein's testimony came as a bit of a surprise during a hearing called by Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., because of concern over how data collected from mobile location-based services could be misused to invade smartphone user privacy.

Executives from Google and Apple assured lawmakers they're committed to maintaining the privacy of users of Android-based smartphones and iPhones and iPads, which use a variety of geo-location technology to locate where a person is using a device so a range of applications can provide them personalized services.

However, this ability gives companies under current federal regulations the ability to "disclose my location without my knowing it and without my consent," a scenario with which lawmakers are less than comfortable, Franken said. It's that same information, however, that Weinstein said the DOJ wants to use to catch criminals.

Location-based services have "tremendous value to consumers," said Alan Davidson, director of public policy at Google, who even cited a government application--a U.S. Post Office app that helps people find the locations of local post offices from their mobile devices--as a prime example.

Indeed, a host of federal agencies--including the White House itself--offer smartphone applications as part of the government's plan to use technology to better engage with the public, and some of them use location-based services.

Franken stressed that the feds are not trying to handcuff the companies from continuing to offer innovative mobile services and applications. "No one wants Apple or Google to stop producing their products--you guys are brilliant," he said.

Still, there is definitely a need to "find a balance between all of those wonderful benefits and the public's right to privacy," Franken said.

Davidson faced particular scrutiny by lawmakers for reports that Google collected user location data from unsecured Wi-Fi networks and then filed for patents for the technology used to do it.

He said the company collected the data inadvertently, did not intend to misuse it, and destroyed the data when it was asked to. Apple, too, has been reported to collect location-based data of its users.

However, if the DOJ has its way, these contentious practices, rather than being criticized, may some day be required by law.

 

Recommended Reading:

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Threaded  |  Newest First  |  Oldest First
COVID-19: Latest Security News & Commentary
Dark Reading Staff 8/10/2020
Researcher Finds New Office Macro Attacks for MacOS
Curtis Franklin Jr., Senior Editor at Dark Reading,  8/7/2020
Healthcare Industry Sees Respite From Attacks in First Half of 2020
Robert Lemos, Contributing Writer,  8/13/2020
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon Contest
Write a Caption, Win an Amazon Gift Card! Click Here
Latest Comment: It's a technique known as breaking out of the sandbox kids.
Current Issue
Special Report: Computing's New Normal, a Dark Reading Perspective
This special report examines how IT security organizations have adapted to the "new normal" of computing and what the long-term effects will be. Read it and get a unique set of perspectives on issues ranging from new threats & vulnerabilities as a result of remote working to how enterprise security strategy will be affected long term.
Flash Poll
The Changing Face of Threat Intelligence
The Changing Face of Threat Intelligence
This special report takes a look at how enterprises are using threat intelligence, as well as emerging best practices for integrating threat intel into security operations and incident response. Download it today!
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2019-20383
PUBLISHED: 2020-08-13
ABBYY network license server in ABBYY FineReader 15 before Release 4 (aka 15.0.112.2130) allows escalation of privileges by local users via manipulations involving files and using symbolic links.
CVE-2020-24348
PUBLISHED: 2020-08-13
njs through 0.4.3, used in NGINX, has an out-of-bounds read in njs_json_stringify_iterator in njs_json.c.
CVE-2020-24349
PUBLISHED: 2020-08-13
njs through 0.4.3, used in NGINX, allows control-flow hijack in njs_value_property in njs_value.c. NOTE: the vendor considers the issue to be "fluff" in the NGINX use case because there is no remote attack surface.
CVE-2020-7360
PUBLISHED: 2020-08-13
An Uncontrolled Search Path Element (CWE-427) vulnerability in SmartControl version 4.3.15 and versions released before April 15, 2020 may allow an authenticated user to escalate privileges by placing a specially crafted DLL file in the search path. This issue was fixed in version 1.0.7, which was r...
CVE-2020-24342
PUBLISHED: 2020-08-13
Lua through 5.4.0 allows a stack redzone cross in luaO_pushvfstring because a protection mechanism wrongly calls luaD_callnoyield twice in a row.