New documents obtained by Motherboard show that the CDC used COVID-19 as a reason to track tens of millions of cell phones of Americans for the purpose of analyzing compliance with lock downs. They tracked how people responded to curfews, tracked patterns of people visiting K-12 schools and monitored how well their policies were working in the Navajo Nation.
The most alarming fact found in the documents was that the CDC used COVID-19 as a reason to buy the data – despite their goal of using for more general CDC studies.
In theory, the data is anonymized and uses aggregated data to allow the CDC to follow trends. Researchers warn that the data can be unmasked and could potentially be used to track specific visitors.
Motherboard revealed that the CDC had large plans to purchase the data from a broker, SafeGraph, which the CDC paid $420,000 to for a year’s worth of data. In June, Google previously banned the company from the Play Store.
The 2021 documents stated that the data “has been critical for ongoing response efforts, such as hourly monitoring of activity in curfew zones or detailed counts of visits to participating pharmacies for vaccine monitoring.”
The documents, which were obtained under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), say that the potential use cases of the data are:
- “Track patterns of those visiting K-12 schools by the school and compare to 2019; compare with epi metrics [Environmental Performance Index] if possible.”
- “Examination of the correlation of mobility patterns data and rise in COVID-19 cases […] Movement restrictions (Border closures, inter-regional and nigh curfews) to show compliance.”
- “Examination of the effectiveness of public policy on [the] Navajo Nation.”
Many groups of people were rightfully paranoid during the pandemic of government overreach and these documents don’t do much to alleviate this fear.
The documents say, “This is an URGENT COVID-19 [procurement request],” and asks for the purchase to be expedited. However, many of the use cases are not linked to the pandemic such as one point that says “Research points of interest for physical activity and chronic disease prevention such as visits to parks, gyms, or weight management businesses.”
They even spell it more clearly in a statement that reads:
“CDC also plans to use mobility data and services acquired through this acquisition to support non-COVID-19 programmatic areas and public health priorities across the agency, including but not limited to travel to parks and greenspaces, physical activity and mode of travel, and population migration before, during, and after natural disasters,” it reads. “The mobility data obtained under this contract will be available for CDC agency-wide use and will support numerous CDC priorities.”
Do you think the CDC should be using our personal data to track Americans for any reason?