Apple and Google have been ordered by the U.S. government to hand over names, phone numbers and other identifying data of at least 10,000 users of a single gun scope app, Forbes reports Friday in an investigative feature.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is reportedly gathering information as part of a wider investigation into suspected breaches of weapons export regulations involving the scope this company makes, though the company itself isn’t under investigation, according to the federal order.
“This pattern of unlawful, attempted exports of this rifle scope in combination with the manner in which the ATN Obsidian 4 application is paired with this scope manufactured by Company A supports the conclusion that the information requested herein will assist the government in identifying networks engaged in the unlawful export of this rifle scope through identifying end users located in countries to which export of this item is restricted,” the government order reads.
“It’s an unprecedented move: Never before has a case been disclosed in which American investigators demanded personal data of users of a single app from Apple and Google,” writes Thomas Brewster, “And never has an order been made public where the feds have asked the Silicon Valley giants for info on so many thousands of people in one go.”
According to a court order filed by the Department of Justice (DOJ) on September 5, investigators want information on users of Obsidian 4, a tool used to control rifle scopes made by night-vision specialist American Technologies Network Corp. The app allows gun owners to get a live stream, take video and calibrate their gun scope from an Android or iPhone device. According to the Google Play page for Obsidian 4, it has more than 10,000 downloads. Apple doesn’t provide download numbers, so it’s unclear how many iPhone owners have been swept up in this latest government data grab.
If Apple and Google decide to hand over the information, it could include data on thousands of people who have nothing to do with the crimes being investigated, privacy activists warned. Edin Omanovic, lead on Privacy International's State Surveillance program, said the order would set a dangerous precedent and scoop up “huge amounts of innocent people’s personal data.”
“Such orders need to be based on suspicion and be particularized—this is neither,” Omanovic added.
Neither Apple nor Google had responded to a request for comment at the time of publication. ATN, the scope maker, also hadn’t responded.
This online report claims ATN scopes were being used by the Taliban.