A group of Democratic senators wrote to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Inspector General (IG) to request that the IG investigate alleged warrantless domestic surveillance of phones by DHS’s Customs and Border Protection (CBP) component.

“According to public government contracts, CBP has spent nearly half a million dollars for subscriptions to a commercial database provided by a government contractor named Venntel, containing location data collected from millions of Americans’ mobile phones,” the letter says.

The senators cited the 2018 Supreme Court case, Carpenter v. United States, which held that the “collection of significant quantities of historical location data from Americans’ cell phones is a search under the Fourth Amendment and therefore requires a warrant.”

According to the letter, CBP confirmed to Senate that it was using Venntel’s location database to search for information collected from phones. But CBP would not provide legal analysis it conducted to determine that its activities did not require warrants.

“CBP is not above the law and it should not be able to buy its way around the Fourth Amendment,” the senators wrote. “Accordingly, we urge you to investigate CBP’s warrantless use of commercial databases containing Americans’ information, including but not limited to Venntel’s location database.”

The letter was signed by Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii.

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Jordan Smith
Jordan Smith
Jordan Smith is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.