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CDC Tracked Millions of Cell Phones to Monitor COVID-19 Lockdown Compliance, According to Obtained Documents


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“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) bought access to location data harvested from tens of millions of phones in the United States to perform analysis of compliance with curfews, track patterns of people visiting K-12 schools, and specifically monitor the effectiveness of policy in the Navajo Nation, according to CDC documents obtained by Motherboard.”

The documents reveal the CDC used COVID-19 as a reason to purchase access to the data more quickly.

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The CDC monitored curfew zones, churches, schools, neighbor-to-neighbor visits and trips to pharmacies through SafeGraph, a controversial data broker.

The CDC used the data to determine whether Americans were complying with COVID-19 lockdowns.

Motherboard reported:

The documents reveal the expansive plan the CDC had last year to use location data from a highly controversial data broker. SafeGraph, the company the CDC paid $420,000 for access to one year of data to, includes Peter Thiel and the former head of Saudi intelligence among its investors. Google banned the company from the Play Store in June.

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.

Zach Edwards, a cybersecurity researcher who closely follows the data marketplace, told Motherboard in an online chat after reviewing the documents that “The CDC seems to have purposefully created an open-ended list of use cases, which included monitoring curfews, neighbor to neighbor visits, visits to churches, schools and pharmacies, and also a variety of analysis with this data specifically focused on ‘violence.’” (The document doesn’t stop at churches; it mentions “places of worship.”)

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.”

Read the full report from Motherboard HERE.



 

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