AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi, File
The Constitution of the United States exists because our Founding Fathers didn’t really trust government all that much. They understood that governments are a necessary evil, that people need governance, but that there was a very real risk of governmental power being used to oppress people. They knew it quite well. They’d just overthrown the government of the colonies and won their independence.
So they created a framework where the government could do what it absolutely needed to do but would ultimately be kept in check so it couldn’t run rampant over the American populace.
At least in theory.
However, the latest move by the government of the United States is something that will have those Founding Fathers rolling over in their graves over.
Own a rifle? Got a scope to go with it? The U.S. government might soon know who you are, where you live and how to reach you.
That’s because the government wants Apple and Google to hand over names, phone numbers and other identifying data of at least 10,000 users of a single gun scope app, Forbes has discovered. It’s an unprecedented move: Never before has a case been disclosed in which American investigators demanded personal data of users of a single app from Apple and Google. And never has an order been made public where the feds have asked the Silicon Valley giants for info on so many thousands of people in one go.
According to an application for a court order filed by the Department of Justice (DOJ) on September 5, investigators want information on users of Obsidian 4, a tool used to control rifle scopes made by night-vision specialist American Technologies Network Corp. The app allows gun owners to get a live stream, take video and calibrate their gun scope from an Android or iPhone device. According to the Google Play page for Obsidian 4, it has more than 10,000 downloads. Apple doesn’t provide download numbers, so it’s unclear how many iPhone owners could be swept up in this latest government data grab.
If the court approves the demand, and Apple and Google decide to hand over the information, it could include data on thousands of people who have nothing to do with the crimes being investigated, privacy activists warned. Edin Omanovic, lead on Privacy International’s State Surveillance program, said it would set a dangerous precedent and scoop up “huge amounts of innocent people’s personal data.”
“Such orders need to be based on suspicion and be particularized—this is neither,” Omanovic added.
The problem is that ICE is investigating potential export violations of the scopes in question. They apparently feel that the data will show people downloading the apps overseas, which means the scopes themselves would be overseas as well.
That makes sense.
What doesn’t make sense, though, is demanding a full database of everyone who has downloaded the app. After all, the same logic they’re using to identify export violations–the fact that if you download the app, you have the scope–can be extended out to make this data a sort of registration of gun owners. It’s not a full listing, but they’ll know about 10,000 or so people who have guns and have done nothing wrong.
As Omanovic noted, orders like these are supposed to be particularized and not nearly so broad.
Of course, ICE is making the request, but it doesn’t mean the court is going to approve it. My sincere hope is that they don’t. There’s nothing at all to be gained by gathering the data on every user who has this app. With luck, the court will kick it back and demand that ICE come up with something a bit more specific, such as users who downloaded the app from outside of the United States or something like that.
Will they? Who knows.
What I do know is that the government has no business knowing everyone who owns this particular scope or even just this particular app.