(FiveNation.com)- In an explosive report last week, Vice revealed that the Centers for Disease Control was using the location data from tens of millions of Americans’ cellphones to track lockdown compliance and vaccination efforts.
Vice obtained internal documents from the CDC revealing that the agency was specifically monitoring Americans’ visits to churches and schools while also tracking “detailed counts of visits to participating pharmacies for vaccine monitoring.”
The agency was particularly focused on tracking movements during curfews, including visits between neighbors.
To accomplish this startling invasion of privacy, the CDC obtained the data from the data broker company SafeGraph. Initially, SafeGraph provided the data free of charge. But in 2021, the CDC made a deal to pay SafeGraph $420,000 for continued access to citizens’ cellphone location data for another year.
In the documents supplied to Vice, the CDC defended the move, claiming it helped give the agency “deeper insights into the pandemic as it pertains to human behavior.” It claimed the data was critical to its ongoing efforts to monitor activity “in curfew zones” and to obtain “detailed counts” of visits to pharmacies “for vaccine monitoring.”
Using cellphone location data to track citizens is nothing new. In recent years, other agencies, including Canada’s Public Health Agency and the Illinois Department of Transportation have also been accused of doing the same thing.
While this invasion of privacy is striking, the truth is, neither the CDC nor SafeGraph were keeping their relationship a secret.
In September 2020, the CDC published a report that examined whether people were following stay-at-home orders. The report appeared to use data supplied by SafeGraph.
After the Vice story broke, a spokesman for SafeGraph told the New York Post that the company has been open about its connection to the CDC since the beginning of the pandemic, something Vice conceded in its reporting.
Vice noted in the article that in a blog post from April 2020, SafeGraph announced that, to do its part in the fight against COVID, it would expand its program to offer data free of charge to nonprofit organizations as well as local, state, and federal government agencies.”