CDC tracked millions of phones to monitor compliance with COVID lockdown orders

As detailed by VICE, researchers have raised serious concerns about how the location data can be de-anonymized and used to track specific individuals.

CDC tracked millions of phones to monitor compliance with COVID lockdown orders
AP Photo/Ron Harris
Remove Ads

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reportedly purchased access to location data collected from tens of millions of phones across the United States to perform an analysis of how many people were following the agency's lockdown mandates and curfews.

According to VICE, which acquired newly-released documents from the CDC, the agency used the phone location data to track the patterns of people visiting K-12 schools, compliance with curfews, and more specifically to monitor the effectiveness of health policies in the Navajo Nation.

“The documents also show that although the CDC used COVID-19 as a reason to buy access to the data more quickly, it intended to use it for more-general CDC purposes,” VICE reported.

Location data is information stored by your phone that can provide details on your whereabouts, including where you work, where you live, and the places you visited – and for how long. Typically, such data is used by Google Maps, Uber and other apps and tracking services that require a user's locational information to provide delivery or mapping services.

In the case of the CDC, the government agency was using the data to track the patterns of behavior across a large segment of the population.

As detailed by VICE, researchers have raised serious concerns about how the location data can be de-anonymized and used to track specific individuals.

The CDC reportedly procured the location data from data broker SafeGraph, which was paid $420,000 for access to one year of data. The company, which VICE describes as “controversial” was banned from Google’s Play Store last June, the Verge reported.

VICE reported:

The CDC used the data for monitoring curfews, with the documents saying that SafeGraph’s 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 date from 2021.

Motherboard obtained the documents through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the CDC.

The documents contain a long list of what the CDC describes as 21 different “potential CDC use cases for data.” They include:

  • “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.”

Separately, the Electronic Frontier Foundation obtained documents concerning the CDC’s purchase of location data products from another company called Cubeiq, as well as the SafeGraph documents. Those documents, in particular, show that the CDC requested to accelerate the purchase of Cubeiq’s data because of the spread of COVID-19, and “intended to use it for non-COVID-19 purposes.”

The article goes into further detail about the CDC’s use of the location data, which includes research points of interest for physical activity and chronic disease prevention and other public health concerns.

Remove Ads
Remove Ads

  • By Ezra Levant

Save Rebel News

Rebel News and Ezra Levant received legal notice of intention to bring a lawsuit from Trudeau’s “disinformation” czar Jean-Christophe Boucher. He’s coming to censor us and to shut us down — we need your help.

take action

Don't Get Censored

Big Tech is censoring us. Sign up so we can always stay in touch.

Remove Ads