US government using cellphones to track Americans’ movements during coronavirus pandemic

According to a Wall Street Journal report, government officials across the U.S. are using location data from millions of cellphones in a bid to track American’s movements during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic and how they may be affecting the spread of the disease.

Byron Tau for The Wall Street Journal:

government cellphone trackingThe federal government, through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and state and local governments have started to receive analyses about the presence and movement of people in certain areas of geographic interest drawn from cellphone data, people familiar with the matter said. The data comes from the mobile advertising industry rather than cellphone carriers.

The data—which is stripped of identifying information like the name of a phone’s owner—could help officials learn how coronavirus is spreading around the country and help blunt its advance. It shows which retail establishments, parks and other public spaces are still drawing crowds that could risk accelerating the transmission of the virus, according to people familiar with the matter. In one such case, researchers found that New Yorkers were congregating in large numbers in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park and handed that information over to local authorities, one person said.

The growing reliance on mobile phone location data continues to raise concerns about privacy protections, especially when programs are run by or commissioned by governments.

MacDailyNews Take: No location data is truly anonymized. It can be cross-matched with other publicly-available data to identify and track individuals. The idea of any government using cellphone tracking to monitor its citizens’ movements, regardless of the reason, is chilling.
Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety. — Benjamin Franklin

[Fixed apostrophe. Thanks, cococanuck!]


  1. When a private citizen wants to recover their phone, that they tracked to the home of Mr. light fingers, we shall see if they get action, in the past many people got excuses from the police….

Reader Feedback

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.