The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) is evidently ordering Google and Apple to submit the names of the thousands of users of a particular app.

What is the order for, and are there any implications for security and privacy?

US DOJ Order

In an exclusive report by Forbes, it was revealed that the U.S. DOJ applied for a court order to obtain information from Apple and Google on the users of Obsidian 4, a tool used to control rifle scopes of a particular brand. The app has 10,000 downloads on Google Play alone, while Apple does not disclose the number of downloads. This means that the DOJ might be obtaining records of thousands of individuals, from their names, phone numbers, and other data.

According to Forbes, this is the first known case wherein American investigators are demanding thousands of personal data of users of a single app from Google and Apple.

Illegal Export Investigation

Obsidian 4 is an app that was made to be used with American Technologies Network Corp (ATN) scopes, allowing owners to livestream, record, or even calibrate their gun scopes using their smartphones or tablets. Evidently, DOJ is requiring the information because of an ongoing investigation regarding potential breaches of export regulations.

While the ATN itself is not under investigation, using data from the app will help investigators to pinpoint where the scopes are being used, thereby indicating where possibly illegally shipped scopes are located. Apparently, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement has repeatedly intercepted illegal shipments of ATN scopes, and online reports have stated that such scopes are being used by the Taliban.

Privacy Issue

It is easy to see why this is a cause of concern for privacy activists. By providing information on all the people using the app, even those who are not involved in the illegal shipments will be affected. What’s more, once the court signs the order, Google and Apple will be required to provide not just the names but also the telephone numbers and IP addresses of everyone who downloaded the app from Aug. 1, 2017, to the present date even if they have no reason to suspect that those people committed a crime.

This type of information could easily be used to know the location of an individual, and such orders, if approved, could pave the way to demanding for data from other apps as well.

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