Law enforcement officers across the country have obtained access to an obscure cellphone tracking app allowing them to map out people’s movements going back several months in time. The app, known as “Fog Reveal,” was first brought to light this month in a story by the Associated Press, which relied on documents obtained under public records laws by the digital rights organization Electronic Frontier Foundation.
In the past, law enforcement agencies were obligated to jump through various legal hoops to acquire this information, as the sole sources of it would be the companies that own and control cellphone towers, such as AT&T. But many thousands of cellphone apps today demand access to location data. Some even require it to function properly. (You could not, for instance, play Pokémon Go without the Pokémon Go app itself knowing your exact location.)
This isn’t exactly a secret, and so for many, their minds are unlikely to be blown by learning that police departments are sidestepping normal procedures to track phones. The idea that we’re all being tracked at all times and that tech companies can basically pinpoint our locations whenever they want is, more or less, widely accepted.
That said, the details of how police extralegally track Americans still constitute a massive revelation, one that deserves examination. And here we’ll take a look at what newly uncovered records tell us about its capabilities.