A U.S. senator is asking for some straight answers about the extent governments have been able to spy on Americans through their smartphones.
Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon recently wrote Attorney General Merrick Garland to kick free information Apple and Google have said the federal government is keeping under wraps.
Wyden indicated that he had particular concern over information shared with foreign governments.
A report in The Washington Post said that based on a review of court records, searching what are known as push notifications in order to develop a map of a targeted individual’s contacts, was used in the investigations of participants in the protests of Jan. 6, 2021, and the Capitol incursion that followed.
The Post noted that every push notification that tells a user a friend contacted them creates what is called a token. Obtaining information in the tokens allows investigators to determine who contacted the user.
“In the spring of 2022, my office received a tip that government agencies in foreign countries were demanding smartphone “push” notification records from Google and Apple. My staff have been investigating this tip for the past year, which included contacting Apple and Google,” he wrote.
The companies cited the federal government when they did not comply, he wrote.
“In response to that query, the companies told my staff that information about this practice is restricted from public release by the government,” he wrote.
Wyeden noted that “ because Apple and Google deliver push notification data, they can be secretly compelled by governments to hand over this information.”
Unidentified governments are surveilling smartphone users via their apps’ push notifications, Senator Ron Wyden warned https://t.co/3NdpNlSHOk
— Reuters (@Reuters) December 7, 2023
The two companies “are in a unique position to facilitate government surveillance of how users are using particular apps,” he wrote.
“Apple and Google should be permitted to be transparent about the legal demands they receive, particularly from foreign governments, just as the companies regularly notify users about other types of government demands for data,” Wyden wrote.
“These companies should be permitted to generally reveal whether they have been compelled to facilitate this surveillance practice, to publish aggregate statistics about the number of demands they receive, and unless temporarily gagged by a court, to notify specific customers about demands for their data,” he added.
This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.
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