Cupertino, CA – The U.S. government wants Apple and Google to hand over the names, phone numbers, and other personal data on more than 10,000 users of a single gun scope app.
Forbes reported that the federal government had made the unprecedented move of demanding the personal data of users of the single app.
An application for a court order that was filed by the U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) said U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was seeking the personally-identifiable information on users of Obsidian4, an app that controls rifle scopes made by American Technologies Network Corporation (ATN).
The gun scope app allows gun owners to have a live stream and take a video, as well as calibrate a scope for a gun, while it is on an Android or iPhone device, according to Forbes.
The DoJ application said ICE wanted the information as part of an investigation into potential breaches of weapons export regulations.
ICE is investigating illegal exports of American Technologies Network Corporation’s scope; however, Forbes noted the company itself is not under investigation.
“This pattern of unlawful, attempted exports of this rifle scope in combination with the manner in which the ATN Obsidian4 application is paired with this scope manufactured by Company A supports the conclusion that the information requested herein will assist the government in identifying networks engaged in the unlawful export of this rifle scope through identifying end users located in countries to which export of this item is restricted,” the court filing read.
Authorities were trying to quickly find out where the gun scope app was being used in the hope that will lead them to where the hardware has been shipped, Forbes reported.
The government’s court filing said that ICE had repeatedly intercepted illegal shipments of the scope, which is supposed to be controlled under the International Traffic in Arms Regulation (ITAR).
The gun scopes in question were shipped to Canada, the Netherlands, and Hong Kong without the necessary licenses having been approved, according to Forbes.
Obsidian4’s Google Play page showed that more than 10,000 users had downloaded the app. Apple doesn’t make their download statistics public.
If the court were to approve the order, Apple and Google would be ordered to hand over the names, telephone numbers, and IP addresses of everyone who has downloaded the app since Aug. 1, 2017, as well as information on when they were actually using it, Forbes reported.
“The danger is the government will go on this fishing expedition, and they’ll see information unrelated to what they weren’t looking for and go after someone for something else,” privacy attorney Tor Ekeland said.
Ekeland pointed out that the U.S. government has a nasty habit of doing just that, Forbes reported.
“There’s a more profound issue here with the government able to vacuum up a vast amount of data on people they have no reason to suspect have committed any crime,” he said. “They don’t have any probable cause to investigate, but they’re getting access to data on them.”
Former National Security Agency (NSA) analyst Jake Williams agreed.
“The idea that this data will only be used for pursuing ITAR violations is almost laughable,” Williams told Forbes.
“Google and Apple should definitely fight these requests as they represent a very slippery slope,” he explained. “This type of bulk data grab is seriously concerning for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that the download of an application does not automatically imply the ‘intended use’ of the application. For instance, researchers often bulk download applications looking for interesting vulnerabilities.”
“The idea that Google could be compelled to turn over, in secret, all of my identifiers and session data in its possession because I downloaded an application for research is such a broad overreach it's ridiculous,” Williams told Forbes.
Edin Omanovic, a privacy expert with Privacy International’s State Surveillance program, said that government orders need to be based on suspicion and be precise.
Omanovic told Forbes that in this case, neither test had been met.