In recent days I was reviewing several news items regarding the historic migration wave of Puerto Ricans to the mainland, particularly the states of Florida and Pennsylvania, following the devastation caused by hurricanes Irma and Maria last September, when I came up with an article that made me really nervous and uneasy. The news related to how several private companies ‘track’ and ‘follow’ the movement of United States citizens with cellular data usage information. Basically, they know where we are and now they can publish, freely apparently, that information, so everybody can know.
In the after mentioned news piece, a private company in Europe named Teralytics developed a digital map of where are the Puerto Ricans that left the island in the wake of the hurricanes using mobile data usage as their only source of information. That data is only available to U.S. data cellular phones carriers, which means that those companies are sharing tracking information of U.S. citizens to third parties.
It’s not common for telecommunications companies to share their data with outside parties. Several carriers have even gone to the courts to prevent state governments from acquiring it. Is not that they care for privacy, which they should, but they are afraid of reveling their customer list to anyone.
Teralytics, a Zurich-based company, defended its position stating that they are not tracking any individual, but a massive migration wave with the purpose of helping those they track. This excuse is totally unacceptable.
We understand that there’s a real debate going on for some time regarding the authorities’ use of mobile data to track down criminal suspects, among others, across the nation. But this is the first time I have read about this method been apply to track and hunt U.S. citizens exercising their democratic right to freely travel within our nation’s borders, and this has caused me a great deal of concern. The U.S. is not and should not become a police state, there’s simply no reason for it.
Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens, the same as people from Virginia, Washington and New York, to mention just a few. They have the constitutional right to move, without any inconvenience or fear, through the 50 states and the other territories; yet, according to several articles, private companies are tracking their every move with the excuse of knowing where to put on resources. This practice is performed in war-torn countries such as Libya, Syria and in the Balkans, to name a few recent examples, but never in the U.S.
The tracking of U.S. citizens using this unconstitutional method must end now. I urge Congress and the Federal Communication Commission to take a deep look into this matter and to make sure that this information is never using to track our citizens. The U.S. is the beacon of democracy around the world, and this unconstitutional practice dampens the freedom the government must protect.
Aponte is former Speaker and current member of the Puerto Rico House of Representatives.