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Massachusetts Sued For Working With Google To Secretly Put Spyware On Residents’ Phones

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A newly released video highlights how the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) allegedly colluded with Google to secretly install Covid-tracking spyware on the smartphones of more than one million residents “without their knowledge or consent.”

A video published by the New Civil Liberties Alliance (NCLA) — a self-described civil rights group devoted to protecting Americans from administrative overreach — walks viewers through the core tenets of the organization’s ongoing lawsuit against DPH and Democrat Gov. Maura Healey, which claims Massachusetts violated state residents and workers’ Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights by installing a Covid “contact-tracing app” on their Androids without their awareness or permission.

According to NCLA’s legal complaint, DPH launched an initial version of the app for Android mobile devices in April 2021 using software provided to the agency by Google. At the time, the installation of the app — which purportedly causes the device “to constantly connect and exchange information with other nearby devices via Bluetooth” to alert individuals of possible exposure to Covid-19 — was voluntary. Following low download numbers among state residents, however, DPH allegedly began working with Google on June 15, 2021, to “secretly install the Contact Tracing App onto over one million Android mobile devices located in Massachusetts without the device owners’ knowledge or permission.”

User attempts to delete the app from his or her respective devices proved unsuccessful, as DPH would allegedly “re-install it onto their device.”

“They made it hard to find on your phone because it doesn’t show up on the home screen with every other app you have,” NCLA Litigation Counsel Sheng Li said. “You have thousands and thousands of people who don’t know this is on their phone.”

According to NCLA, the app purportedly acts as spyware that “deliberately tracks and records movement and personal contacts onto over a million mobile devices without their owners’ permission and awareness.” Among the data accessible to DPH and Google are “personal identifiers, including the device owner’s [media access control] address, wireless network IP addresses, phone numbers, and personal emails.”

“When this stored data is written onto mobile devices’ system logs, it becomes available to DPH, Google, application developers, device manufacturers, network providers, and other third parties with access to the logs,” NCLA claims in its complaint. “DPH and third parties can use the MAC address of a device owner and other personal identifiers to trace the logged data back to determine the individual identity of the owners.”

As part of their suit, plaintiffs are requesting the U.S. District Court District of Massachusetts issue an injunction barring continued installation of the app without user consent and requiring DPH to work with Google to uninstall the app and delete all records from devices in which the owner did not give permission for installation. Plaintiffs are further requesting the court declare that the alleged installation of the app without proper consent constitutes a violation of their Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights.

Defendants in the case have since filed a motion to dismiss NCLA’s request for injunctive relief, claiming the case is now moot since the software was purportedly discontinued when the state’s Exposure Notification System was shut down following the expiration of the U.S. Covid public health emergency on May 11. NCLA filed an opposition to the defendants’ motion to dismiss on June 12.


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