April 16, 2024
  • More than 130 petitions across 14 states request courts to allow investigators to freely access push notification metadata.
  • A double-edged sword — on one hand, it can speed up investigations but on the other, everyone will have to give up their privacy.

130+ Petitions Seeking Access To Push Notification Metadata Filed

US courts have received more than 130 petitions from investigators to allow them to access push notification metadata from the devices of US citizens.

US laws aren’t very strict when it comes to protecting data privacy, especially for mobile users. Even in the past, there have been several instances where an investigation was only successful because the authorities could silently access mobile data and gain confidential insights about the user’s location, IP address, and so on.

This process has certainly benefited in some cases. Major criminals involved with terrorism, child abuse, drug abuse, and fraud were only nabbed because police could track their location.

But on the flip side, if the petition goes through, it would mean that US citizens will have to completely give up their privacy. While it seems like a great initiative, it could backfire in so many ways.

Think of all those women belonging to states where abortion is banned. Some often travel to different states to get this procedure done. But if the authorities have access to their mobiles, they can always check their location and know when they visit a reproductive health clinic.

Demand Beyond The Borders

The demand for access to mobile push notifications is not just limited to the country’s police department. Last year in December, Senator Ron Wyden sent a letter to the Justice Department saying that in 2022 he received an anonymous tip.

The tip informed that certain foreign government agencies were trying to get their hands on push notifications from Google and Apple devices.

As with all of the other information these companies store for or about their users, because Apple and Google deliver push notification data, they can be secretly compelled by governments to hand over this information.Sen. Ron Wyden

This letter was sent because when Apple and Google representatives were asked to divulge more information about their push notification practices, they said that the Justice Department asked them to not speak about it. So this letter was basically an attempt to change that rule.

It looks like the letter has been effective because since then, Apple has agreed to divulge more information about the requests it gets from government bodies across the world in its biannual transparency report.

What’s Next?

Now getting back to the petitions, it’s hard to say whether the US courts will accept the petitions to give access to push notifications. But it’s important to note that even now, government organizations are getting access to this data by other means.

For example, in 2022, Pushwoosh (one of the largest push notification companies in the world) was found to be a Russian agency in disguise that was tricking both the US Army and the CDS into installing its tech into certain government apps that gave them access to many confidential details of the country.

Incidents like these are examples of two things at once — one is why investigators are after push notifications and the second is how dangerous this practice is. It’s the same as opening up your phone to a stranger on the street.

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