Tlaib, Pocan, & Omar Request Investigation into US Military Purchase of Muslim Users’ Data

February 18, 2021
Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Today, Representatives Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), Mark Pocan (D-WI), and Ilhan Omar (D-MN) led a letter to Defense Secretary General Lloyd Austin and Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines requesting more information about reports that the U.S. military purchased private location data from apps targeted towards Muslim users. The Representatives requested additional information about the data purchases, the use of information gleaned from the data, and any possible violation of privacy rights granted by the Constitution and protected by law. 

 

“President Biden must ensure that the civil rights of all people, including Muslim Americans are protected,” said Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib (MI-13). “We cannot continue to allow our government to intrude on and violate the privacy and rights of people across this country. We cannot pick and choose who the Constitution applies to. The reports that the United States military purchased data from apps targeting Muslim audiences is beyond troubling. We need answers as to why this happened and action to ensure it never happens again.” 

 

“We cannot begin another administration continuing the systemic surveillance of Muslim communities,” said Congressman Pocan (WI-02). “The American Muslim community deserves to know why the U.S. military targeted their data and what they did with that data. We cannot simply repeat the mistakes and opacity of the previous administration. The Biden administration has an opportunity to prioritize transparency and the civil liberties of Muslim-Americans after two decades of surveillance and spying by our federal intelligence community, we urge them to do so.”

 

“For decades now, the Muslim community in Minnesota and across the country have had their civil liberties compromised, their rights abused, and their privacy ignored,” said Congresswoman Ilhan Omar (MN-5). “It is unacceptable in a country that promotes the freedom of religion and assembly. The Biden Administration must provide a full explanation for this blatant abuse of power and potential violation of the Constitution and ensure that it does not happen again.”

 

The letter was signed by 18 members of Congress, including Representatives Adriano Espaillat, Alan Lowenthal, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, André Carson, Barbara Lee, Debbie Dingell, Earl Blumenauer, Jamaal Bowman, Ed.D., Jesús G. “Chuy” García, Pramila Jayapal, Raúl Grijalva, Ro Khanna, Suzan DelBene, and Zoe Lofgren.

 

See the full letter below and here.


 

February 18, 2021

 

The Hon. Lloyd J. Austin III

Secretary of Defense

U.S. Department of Defense

1000 Defense Pentagon

Washington, D.C. 20301

 

The Hon. Avril Haines

Director

Office of the Director of National

Intelligence

Washington, D.C. 20511

 

Dear Secretary Austin and Director Haines:

 

We write to express our alarm at recent reporting regarding government purchases of access to large quantities of personal data from apps including a widely-used Muslim prayer and Quran app and a popular Muslim dating app.[1]  This disclosure raises serious concern that such information is advancing systematic, warrantless surveillance of the Muslim-American community contrary to the privacy protections guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution. We wish to know more about these data purchases, the use of information gleaned from the data, and any possible violation of privacy rights granted by the Constitution and protected by law.  Specifically, we request answers to the following questions. Please provide separate responses for each military and intelligence community agency:

 

  1. Has any warrantless surveillance occurred on any U.S. citizen using purchased location data?

 

  1. Has any surveillance whatsoever occurred on any U.S. citizen using purchased location data?

 

  1. Did X-Mode or any other location data provider tout access to location data of Muslims as a feature of its service in communications with U.S. military or intelligence community agencies?

 

  1. Were apps used primarily by the Muslim community targeted for data purchases?  If so, which apps specifically?

 

  1. For the first and second questions above, how many Muslim Americans were impacted?  How many non-Muslim Americans?

 

  1. Have agencies purchased information or data (or access to information or data) that would otherwise be unavailable to the American military, American intelligence community, or American law enforcement agencies?  If so, specifically what type of information/data, and how many individuals were possibly included in the data/information?

 

  1. Do the U.S. military or intelligence community agencies currently possess location data of American citizens, including Muslim-Americans?  If so, which agencies, and how was this data obtained?

 

  1. What was the cost of each contract the military has executed for the purchase of location data?

 

  1. Of the location data that the military and the intelligence community possess, is the data of Muslim American citizens and non-Muslim American citizens segregated in any way?  If so, please describe the process, purpose, and use of any such segregation and resulting usage.

 

  1. Has evidence been used in any court application, trial, hearing, or other proceeding that consists of, was obtained from, or was derived from location information purchased from a commercial vendor?

 

  1. What are the circumstances under which the government notifies criminal defendants, or other parties in legal proceedings, of the use of evidence that consists of, was obtained from, or was derived from location information purchased from a commercial vendor?

 

  1. For any purchased location data, are – or were – the military and intelligence community agencies aware of what apps generated such data prior to purchasing? Please describe each agency’s awareness of the source of the data.

 

  1. If the military or intelligence community has engaged in any data purchasing that targeted Muslim-Americans or Muslims generally, has similar targeted purchasing occurred with respect to any other ethnic or religious minority?

 

Thank you for your attention to this important matter.  It is imperative that every American citizen, no matter their ethnicity or religion, is certain their Fourth and First Amendment rights are not only protected, but equally enforced.

 

Sincerely,

 

Mark Pocan

Member of Congress

 

 

Rashida Tlaib

Member of Congress

Ilhan Omar

Member of Congress

 

 

André Carson

Member of Congress

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Member of Congress

 

Pramila Jayapal

Member of Congress

Jamaal Bowman, Ed.D.

Member of Congress

 

 

Barbara Lee

Member of Congress

Ro Khanna

Member of Congress

 

 

Adriano Espaillat

Member of Congress

Jesús G. “Chuy” García

Member of Congress

 

Earl Blumenauer

Member of Congress

 

 

Raúl Grijalva

Member of Congress

 

 

Debbie Dingell

Member of Congress

 

 

Zoe Lofgren

Member of Congress

 

 

Suzan DelBene

Member of Congress

Alan Lowenthal

Member of Congress

 

 

Daniel T. Kildee

Member of Congress

 

 

 

 

[1] https://www.vice.com/en/article/jgqm5x/us-military-location-data-xmode-locate-x