CBP just paid $476K for people's phone location data from a company that's under investigation for selling personal data

Aaron Holmes
9 hours ago

  • Customs and Border Protection paid $476,000 to Venntel, a firm that gathers and sells location data from people's phones, according to government procurement records published this month.
  • Venntel is currently being investigated by House lawmakers, who have raised concerns about its business of collecting people's location data and selling it to government agencies and other third parties.
  • Law enforcement agencies like the FBI and ICE are increasingly using phone location data to track people down. Unlike most personal data, law enforcement can purchase location data from private firms like without a warrant.
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Customs and Border Patrol in August signed a $476,000 contract with Venntel, a controversial firm that gathers and sells people's phone location data, according to public procurement records first reported by Motherboard.

Venntel sells a software product that collects location data harvested from smartphone apps that people download. Phone location data is a valuable surveillance tool — even when it's "anonymized," location data can be combined with other data points to keep tabs on individuals' movements.

And while law enforcement agencies typically need a warrant to access personal information on people's phones, location data aggregated by firms like Venntel can simply be purchased without a court's approval.

The CBP contract states that the agency purchased "Venntel software," but does not elaborate on how it will be used.

A CBP spokesperson said in a statement to Business Insider that the location data is being used to "enforce U.S. law at the border," and added that the data is anonymized.

"CBP officers, agents, and analysts are provided with access to [Venntel's] interface on a case-by-case basis, and are only able to view a limited sample of anonymized data consistent with existing border security or law enforcement operations," the spokesperson said.

CBP isn't the first federal agency to contract with Venntel. DHS has previously purchased location data from the firm and used it to track down people suspected of crossing into the US illegally, the Wall Street Journal reported in February.

The firm is now being investigated by the Democrat-led House Oversight and Reform Committee, which sent a letter to Venntel in June questioning its clients and data sources.