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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

6 hours ago - World

Top general: U.S. losing time to deter China

Stanley McChrystal. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Stanley McChrystal, a top retired general and Biden adviser, tells Axios that "China's military capacity has risen much faster than people appreciate," and the U.S. is running out of time to counterbalance that in Asia and prevent a scenario such as it seizing Taiwan.

Why it matters: McChrystal, the former commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, recently briefed the president-elect as part of his cabinet of diplomatic and national security advisers. President-elect Joe Biden is considering which Trump- or Obama-era approaches to keep or discard, and what new strategies to pursue.

Progressives shift focus from Biden's Cabinet to his policy agenda

Joe Biden giving remarks in Wilmington, Del., last month. Photo: Roberto Schmidt/AFP via Getty Images

Some progressives tell Axios they believe the window for influencing President-elect Joe Biden’s Cabinet selections has closed, and they’re shifting focus to policy — hoping to shape Biden's agenda even before he’s sworn in.

Why it matters: The left wing of the party often draws attention for its protests, petitions and tweets, but this deliberate move reflects a determination to move beyond some fights they won't win to engage with Biden strategically, and over the long term.

Dave Lawler, author of World
8 hours ago - World

Venezuela's predictable elections herald an uncertain future

The watchful eyes of Hugo Chávez on an election poster in Caracas. Photo: Cristian Hernandez/AFP via Getty

Venezuelans will go to the polls on Sunday, Nicolás Maduro will complete his takeover of the last opposition-held body, and much of the world will refuse to recognize the results.

The big picture: The U.S. and dozens of other countries have backed an opposition boycott of the National Assembly elections on the grounds that — given Maduro's tactics (like tying jobs and welfare benefits to voting), track record, and control of the National Electoral Council — they will be neither free nor fair.

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