The CDC Spied on Americans by Purchasing Location Data for Tens of Millions of Phones – Opinion

“I always feel like somebody’s watching me,” sang Rockwell in his catchy ‘80s hit. If you feel the same way, you’re probably right.

Vice Motherboard published Tuesday a report claiming that the Centers For Disease Control bought data from cell phones belonging to tens or millions of Americans in order to monitor compliance with COVID lockdowns and vaccine efforts.

When a government agency supposedly created to fight disease resorts for spying, you know that something has gone wrong.

The following is the NY Post:

The CDC specifically monitored Americans’ visits to churches and schools, as well as “detailed counts of visits to participating pharmacies for vaccine monitoring,” internal documents from the federal agency obtained by Vice show.

The CDC also reportedly tracked peoples’ movement during curfews and visits between neighbors.

SafeGraph, the notorious data broker that sold the information to CDC claims the provided data is group location data and not individual. Critics raised concerns that the data was less anonymous than what data brokers claimed. Vice says:

Location data is information on a device’s location sourced from the phone, which can then show where a person lives, works, and where they went. The sort of data the CDC bought was aggregated—meaning it was designed to follow trends that emerge from the movements of groups of people—but researchers have repeatedly raised concerns with how location data can be deanonymized and used to track specific people.

The New York Times a few years ago (back when they were a little more normal) did a deep dive on location data, and they reported on how they were able to easily identify a person called “Ms. Magrin”:

A mobile app installed on her device collected her GPS location, which was later sold by the company without her knowing. According to The New York Times’ review of a New York Times database, it recorded her location as frequently as once every two seconds. While Ms. Magrin’s identity was not disclosed in those records, The Times was able to easily connect her to that dot.

SafeGraph is also being accused of selling information about the locations of people visiting abortion clinics. The company announced on Wednesday that it would be ending this practice. Peter Thiel (a billionaire founder of Paypal) and ex-head of Saudi intelligence are at least partly financing the company. (Okay, that seems weird, doesn’t it?)

Gizmodo reports:

A data location broker company called SafeGraph says it will no longer sell the location data of groups of people visiting Planned Parenthood and other clinics that provide abortions following a recent Vice report. Previous purchasers could have known where people visited these clinics from, what time they were there and their destination.

I’m guessing that there are not a lot of Planned Parenthood top donors on RedState, but always remember: what can be done to others can also be done to You. You might consider turning off your GPS the next time you go to a gun shop.

The CDC isn’t the only one purchasing data; the Public Health Agency of Canada and the Illinois Department of Transportation have also been accused of the practice.

Even if the data being sold does not reveal your personal information, I would argue that you’re being tracked anyway. What is the evidence? Let’s say the aggregate data shows that lots of people are violating lockdown orders and attending church. Enforcement officers will march to churches and take violators with them. This might affect you, even if you weren’t PersonallyBeing tracked.

One thing is clear, we’re living in a surveillance state: we’ve known that for a long time. The navigation app made us feel ashamed when we tried to travel with our family last year. From my wife’s Twitter feed:

With all of the changes that occurred after 9/11 and with the advent of cell phones and their ability for us to track our movements every minute of the day, Americans have become acutely aware of the fact that we may be selling our data. They probably just didn’t think the Centers For Disease Control was one of the purchasers, because we thought: Aren’t they busy fighting diseases?

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