According to the statement, public contracts showed that the CBP had paid that money to a government contractor named Venntel, and that CBP officials had confirmed in a call with Senate staff that it was using Venntel’s to track phones without getting warrants. Venntel provide its clients with information and APIs based on “100 percent commercially available data” and appears to source its data from mobile advertising.
The DHS also issued a letter announcing its investigation, and in it inspector general Joseph V. Cuffari wrote that the audit seeks to determine if the DHS (which oversees the CBP) has “developed, updated and adhered to policies related to cell-phone surveillance devices.”
But Cuffari also brought up the DHS’ “use and protection of open source intelligence,” which it says “includes the Department’s use of information provided by the public via cellular devices, such as social media status updates, geo-tagged photos, and specific location check-ins.” The DHS recently came under fire for its “open source intelligence reports” on members of the press, and reportedly ordered to review its procedures related to the collection of identifiable information of American journalists, according to CNN.
Cuffari’s letter gives no indication of an estimated timeline, so it’s not clear when the results of this audit will be made known.