The FBI’s new tactic: Catching suspects with push alerts

The breakthrough relied on a little-known quirk of push alerts, a basic staple of modern phones: Those tokens can be used to identify users and are stored on servers run by Apple and Google, which can hand them over at law enforcement’s request.

But the investigative technique has raised alarms from privacy advocates, who worry the data could be used to surveil Americans at a time when police and prosecutors have used cellphone data to investigate women for potentially violating state abortion bans.

The data has become prized evidence for federal investigators, who have used push tokens in at least four cases across the country to arrest suspects in cases related to child sexual abuse material and a kidnapping that led to murder, according to a Washington Post review of court records. And law enforcement officials have defended the technique by saying they use court-authorized legal processes that give officers a vital tool they need to hunt down criminals.

Full story: The FBI’s new tactic: Catching suspects with push alerts

5 Replies to “The FBI’s new tactic: Catching suspects with push alerts”

  1. Does this new technique impede on our 4th amendment rights?
    Apparently google only gives out information that would only give out information that does not reveal the identity of the person and at times reject the request to give out information. In order for the police or any law enforcement agency to go through your phone they require a warrant but this new process seems like a way for police, from my understanding, to unknowingly give up information that you did not consent to. It is sort of like when police go undercover to get you to say something you wouldn’t otherwise have stated had their been police present. Since Carpenter v United States the Supremem Court has ruled cell phone data falls under the 4th amendment rights this would inherently mean that the data captured by the FBI would’ve been in violation of the 4th amendment but as of now they allowed a person to reveal something through a system that hasn’t exactly been covered at least to my knowledge.

  2. Do the se push alerts violate the personal rights and liberties of the average person? The idea of push alerts sounds similar to a violation of privacy via technology we use every day. It is frighteningly similar to a controversy a while back discussing the prospect of cars being shut down remotely by law enforcement. This type of overreach may catch criminals, but the prospect of its abuse is very real, and something anyone could be concerned with. This could also be extended to active tracking by law enforcement, which could target everyone rather than criminals, or suspected criminals. It is also interesting to not that since almost all communications are owned by private industries, many of them could refuse this order unless it is put into official legislation. This occurred with apple a few years ago when investigators wanted to unlock a suspect’s device.

    1. Push alerts have raised legitimate concerns when it comes to personal rights and freedoms. Similar to what you said about remote car shutdowns, this is definitely an overreach by law enforcement and the federal government, specifically violating civil rights and privacy. While this is aimed at catching criminals this just like the patriot act has problems because of it’s mass surveillance of citizens too which can create a genuine fear in our country. This can remind us of past conflicts such as apple being able to unlock devices. As technology is getting more and more complex we need to ensure a balance between safety measures and individual freedoms.

      1. Dylan, I agree that this has raised legitimate concerns. I like the example you used with Apple. There was a big conflict that they could unlock devices and give out information. Technology is getting more widespread and better, like AI. We need clear regulations set. The regulations need to keep privacy and safety in mind.

      2. Not only does the push alert raise question to our personal rights and liberties it also raises questions to how much leeway with the law, law enforcement should be given and how much they have. This tool could easily be compared to hacking making it equivalent. Although this is for the benefit of catching criminals it could easily fall into the wrong hands. Crooked cops are no secret to the citizens and with having the title of a cop it is not easy to convict a cop with a crime. Then there is also the blue wall of silence where we see other cops being loyal to those that have participated in misconduct.

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