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Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

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Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The Trump administration is using private data to monitor immigration and the border, thanks to a massive database of cellphone records it purchased from private vendors.

Why it matters: Experts are concerned about the scale and use of the data, even if it appears to be on firm legal footing, the Wall Street Journal reports.

  • "This is a classic situation where creeping commercial surveillance in the private sector is now bleeding directly over into government," said Alan Butler, general counsel of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, to the Journal.

Between the lines: The government is quickly putting this data to use alongside its own increased collection.

  • ICE "has used the data to help identify immigrants who were later arrested."
  • The border patrol "uses the information to look for cellphone activity in unusual places, such as remote stretches of desert that straddle the Mexican border."
  • The government is collecting some migrants’ DNA at the border and fingerprinting teenagers.
  • “These are the kinds of tools that will help ICE become more surgical over time, I just don’t trust that under this administration it will be used appropriately,” former acting ICE director John Sandweg told Axios' Stef Kight.

The big picture: In the U.S., the government seems to be leaning ever more into its ability to weaponize big data, reports Axios tech editor Kyle Daly.

  • This is part of an ongoing trend where the U.S. government simultaneously tries to rein in how major tech companies use personal data while government agencies seek to harness those troves of data, per Axios' Sara Fischer and Scott Rosenberg.
  • China and other authoritarian countries already use vast troves of data on their own citizens to stifle dissent and political opposition.

The bottom line: This adds to concerns about the tech industry's model of amassing hoards of data and assuring people it is fine because it gets anonymized.

Go deeper: Government wants access to personal data while it pushes privacy

Go deeper

Updated 31 mins ago - Health

California surpasses 50,000 COVID-19 deaths

A man prepares a funeral arrangement in in Los Angeles, California, Feb. 12. Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

California's death toll from COVID-19 surpassed 50,000 on Wednesday, per Johns Hopkins data.

The big picture: It's the first state to record more than 50,000 deaths from the coronavirus.

2 hours ago - Technology

Facebook bans Myanmar military

A protester holds a placard with a three-finger salute in front of a military tank parked aside the street in front of the Central Bank building during a demonstration in Yangon, Myanmar. Photo by Aung Kyaw Htet/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Facebook said on Wednesday it would ban the rest of the Myanmar military from its platform.

The big picture: It comes some three weeks after the military overthrew the civilian government in a coup and detained leader Aung San Suu Kyi, causing massive protests to erupt throughout the country. Military leaders have been using internet blackouts to try to maintain power in light of the coup.

It's harder to fill the Cabinet

Data: Chamberlain, 2020, "United States of America Cabinet Appointments Dataset" Chart: Will Chase/Axios

It's harder now for presidents to win Senate confirmation for their Cabinet picks, an Axios data analysis of votes for and against nominees found.

Why it matters: It's not just Neera Tanden. The trend is a product of growing polarization, rougher political discourse and slimming Senate majorities, experts say. It means some of the nation's most vital federal agencies go without a leader and the legislative authority that comes with one.

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