Securus lets cops perform real-time cellphone tracking of US Mobile Users

We all are well-aware of the pervasive ways governments employ to spy upon its citizens and there is a proper system in place to deal with such methods. Such as, to allow surveillance; law enforcement authorities are required by law to provide a warrant to the cellphone companies in order to obtain data. But how to track the surveillance carried out by law enforcement in real-time? That’s true! It is possible to track cell phone data in real time thanks to Securus.

Securus is a prison telecom firm that helps law enforcement monitor a majority of cell phones in the US. By using the web interface that leverages its location API, Securus is able to successfully access cell-site databases in real-time. These records are then used to obtain cell phone data to enable tracking.

During the process, third-party data brokers are taken on-board to receive cell phone data while the tracking is carried out via a web-based interface, which helps law enforcement in starting to track any cell phone within seconds.

Third-party brokers involved in the tracking process are directly connected to the telecom firms and most of the times these rely upon exploiting adverts to lure cell phone users into enabling GPS tracking to view location-based ads.

See: Google collects Android location data even if location service is off

Securus, on the other hand, admitted that it usually obtains data from 3CInteractive, which gets data from LocationSmart. So we can assume that Securus utilizes LocationSmart’s API for initiating web-based tracking.

Securus Allows Cops to Perform Real-time Tracking of Cell Phone Users in the US
Image credit: Securus

The problem, as reported by the New York Times, is that the process is performed without any legal checks that could monitor and prevent abuse of confidential user data. The NYT reports that Securus’ service was used (or probably abused) by Cory Hutcheson, an ex-Sheriff of Mississippi County, Missouri, to track target’s cell phones. The targets included a judge and several law enforcement officials.  The tracking started nearly three years back and a warrant was never obtained.

The data system used by Securus is identical to the system offered by cell phone firms to marketers who need to micro-target users as per key data matrixes such as location data. This system is a lot more invasive since it provides uncontrolled access to location tracking across the country.

However, Securus claims that it has substantially limited the use of its system in order to encourage legally permitted surveillance. This step has made it necessary for users of its system to upload court orders or warrants prior to using it. But, the company also noted that it never reviews those orders before granting access to use the system and also doesn’t show the court orders to carriers before accessing their databases.

See: Strava’s Global Heat Map Exposes User Locations Including Military Bases

“Securus is neither a judge nor a district attorney, and the responsibility of ensuring the legal adequacy of supporting documentation lies with our law enforcement customers and their counsel. Securus offers services only to law enforcement and corrections facilities, and not all officials at a given location have access to the system,” a spokesman of Securus told the NYT.

Meanwhile, cell phone carriers are involved in abusing a gap in privacy laws that supposedly prohibits selling this sort of data. The gap is present in cell phone carriers’ lengthy agreements, which usually are never read by the users.

In these agreements, they have included a term that means the user has consented to the selling of location data. Hence, by selling your private data to the carriers you are actually allowing surveillance firms like Securus to exploit it without your permission.

Motherboard reports that Senator Ron Wyden has sent letters to telecom firms and the FCC to provide details of the program. AT&T received the letter and published its contents as well, which read:

“I am writing to insist that AT&T take proactive steps to prevent the unrestricted disclosure and potential abuse of private customer data, including real-time location information, by at least one other company to the government.”

We have to now wait and watch how Securus’ location tracking methods are dealt with by the authorities.

Image credit: Depositphotos

See: Hundreds of Android Gaming Apps are Tracking Your TV Viewing Habits

Waqas

Waqas Amir is a Milan-based cybersecurity journalist with a passion for covering latest happenings in cyber security and tech world. In addition to being the founder of this website, Waqas is also into gaming, reading and investigative journalism.