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Hold The Phone: CDC Bought Your Smartphone Data to Track You During Lockdown.

Walensky & Co. Paid Data Broker Safegraph $420,000, Raising Privacy Concerns.


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Sen. Rand Paul shared the story on Twitter: “many people suspected the NSA would spy on Americans but who would have guessed we needed to fear the CDC’s collection of metadata?”

With this administration’s track record for attacking privacy —we would have guessed.

Just days after learning that the FBI conducted more than 30 million data searches, many without a warrant, involving the information of U.S. citizens in 2021, we’re now hearing that the CDC encroached on our privacy and freedoms as well —and it used our smartphones against us.

According to a report from Vice Magazine, the CDC paid data brokerage firm Safegraph $420,000 for one year’s worth of data to track Americans’ phones during COVID curfews. The tech is meant to track groups but privacy advocates say it can be used to target individuals.

“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) bought access to location data harvested from tens of millions of phones in the United States to perform analysis of compliance with curfews, track patterns of people visiting K-12 schools, and specifically monitor the effectiveness of policy in the Navajo Nation, according to CDC documents obtained by Motherboard,” Vice reports. The documents also show that although the CDC used COVID-19 as a reason to buy access to the data more quickly, it intended to use it for… general purposes.”

“The CDC seems to have purposefully created an open-ended list of use cases, which included monitoring curfews, neighbor to neighbor visits, visits to churches, schools and pharmacies, and also a variety of analysis with this data specifically focused on ‘violence,’” cybersecurity researcher Zach Edwards tells Vice.

The CDC describes 21 different “potential CDC use cases for data,” including:

  • “Track patterns of those visiting K-12 schools by the school and compare to 2019; compare with epi metrics [Environmental Performance Index] if possible.”

  • “Examination of the correlation of mobility patterns data and rise in COVID-19 cases […] Movement restrictions (Border closures, inter-regional and night curfews) to show compliance.”

  • “Examination of the effectiveness of public policy on [the] Navajo Nation.”

What is with this administration and compliance?

In case you needed additional cause for concern, Safegraph is backed by Turki bin Faisal Al Saud, the former head of Saudi Arabia’s intelligence agency. Last June, Google removed all apps from its app store that involved Safegraph technology.

Didn’t stop the CDC though.