Forbes has a report this week with a rather disturbing sounding title, but the details don’t make it quite so clear cut. It’s titled, “Feds Demand Apple And Google Hand Over Names Of 10,000+ Users Of A Gun Scope App.”
Whoa! It not only raises questions of so-called “data privacy” for a large number of people, but it invokes Second Amendment fears by dragging rifle scopes into it. But as I suggested above, this might not be the tale of dystopian, Big Brother government intrusion you could be led to believe. The app in question is called Obsidian 4 and it’s manufactured by night-vision specialist American Technologies Network Corp. It allows users to “get a live stream, take video and calibrate their gun scope from an Android or iPhone device.” There are at least 10,000 people using the app and now the feds want Apple and Google to turn over all of their user data.
Own a rifle? Got a scope to go with it? The U.S. government might soon know who you are, where you live and how to reach you.
That’s because the government wants Apple and Google to hand over names, phone numbers and other identifying data of at least 10,000 users of a single gun scope app, Forbes has discovered. 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. 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.
I suppose a demand for that much data when nearly all of the users haven’t been accused (or even suspected) of a crime yet could be seen as disturbing. But here’s where it gets complicated.
ICE is the agency looking into this question because of the rifle scopes that ATNC sells. The scopes aren’t illegal for Americans to purchase, but they are controlled in terms of exporting them out of the country. It’s alleged that many of these scopes have been showing up in the hands of criminal organizations in other countries, including the Taliban. The belief is that by checking the app’s user activity, they could pin down the locations outside the country where illegal shipments may have gone.
Sounds like a legitimate need by law enforcement to me. But the real question here is why ask for the data for all users? Surely Google and Apple could provide the user data for just those users outside the United States, right? Why not just ask for that if there are no issues with people using the scopes or the app in America? Seems like a reasonable compromise that both the government and the tech giants could see eye to eye on.
I’ll confess I was previously unaware of this app, but after looking into it a bit another question comes to mind. If you can remotely get video from the scope and “calibrate” it at a distance, does that mean you can also fire it remotely? Even if you had to rig up some sort of external trigger activating mechanism, that would be an alarming combination. Then again we already had a guy attach a handgun to a drone and fire it from his controller, so maybe that cat is already out of the bag.