Did You Download an App that Connects to Your Rifle Scope? If So, the Justice Department Wants to Know Who You Are.

Feds go fishing for private data in order to track down illegal exporters.


If you've ever downloaded a gun scope app called Obsidian 4, the Department of Justice wants to know about it. Rather than asking, it's trying to order the app maker to hand over your personal data.

Thomas Brewster, a cybersecurity writer at Forbes, got his hands on a court order filed by the Department of Justice on September 5. The feds want the American Technology Network Corp. (ATN) to hand over personal data from the thousands of users who have downloaded an app that allows them connect their phone to certain rifle scopes and allows the recording and livestreaming of footage viewed through the scope.

It wants this info because Immigration and Customs Enforcement is trying to track down people who have been illegally exporting the scopes overseas. But rather than requesting information on specific potential suspects, they are fishing for the data on everybody who has download the app.

After Brewster got access to the filing, the court sealed it, so members of the public doesn't have the opportunity right now to review the request on their own. ATN subsequently told American Military News that the Justice Department hadn't contacted the company for any information about its users. Nor, it said, have Google or Apple. It added that it "will protect its customers and their identifying data to the absolute extent possible under U.S. law. And, it will not provide any information regarding the identity of our customers to any third party unless specifically required by law,"

That is good news for customers who care about their own privacy, because unfortunately, the private data stored on phone apps and online platforms still don't have the same level of Fourth Amendment protections as private information you keep yourself. If the FBI wants to take your computer and inspect the private data you keep stored on there, agents have to get a warrant, based on probable cause that they suspect you have information stored there related to a criminal investigation. The data you share with apps and store online does not have the same level of privacy protections, and so police, prosecutors, and federal officials frequently attempt to take advantage of these looser standards to fish for data.

We've seen this before, as when the Justice Department attempted to track down the identities of every single person who had visited an anti-Trump "resistance" site because it was trying to identify people who had illegally disrupted events in D.C. during President Donald Trump's inauguration. We've seen this play out on a local level as well, as police departments attempt to force Google and Apple to hand over the location data of the cellphones of people who just happened to be near the scene of a crime, even if they aren't actually suspects.

It's fortunate—and it's good business!—that these tech companies are willing to stand up for users' privacy when the government comes knocking. While Apple and Google haven't responded to the Forbes story yet, Google does its best to keep user names anonymous when police sort through cellphone location records until they've narrowed it down to actual suspects. And it's entirely possible that a judge will order the Justice Department to narrow its request in this case and not demand that ATN hand over the private data of everybody who has downloaded the app. But we should be concerned that the Justice Department keeps attempting to make these broad demands for private data and that they try to keep its efforts as quiet as possible.

Meanwhile, a bunch of people have decided to download the Obsidian 4 app even though they don't have rifle scopes, and then post reviews stating that they're doing so to express their objection to the Justice Department's actions. Prior to this fishing expedition, interestingly, reviews of the app were not terribly positive and lots of users complained that it didn't work properly, or at all.

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  1. That is good news for customers who care about their own privacy, because unfortunately, the private data stored on phone apps and online platforms still don’t have the same level of Fourth Amendment protections as private information you keep yourself.

    “In the Cloud” is a euphemism for “someone else’s computer”.

    1. As in, easy pickings for the third party hidden text to Fourth Amendment.

      1. The hidden text in the Bill of Rights is all they understand. They can’t seem to comprehend the non-hidden text, such as the word infringed.

  2. …lots of users complained that it didn’t work properly, or at all.

    I don’t want to have to be using my data minutes every time I want o see through my scope.

    1. And as you’re ready to fire, an ad pops up in front of you.

  3. Downloading now.

    1. Why?

      1. Pollute the data.

  4. I guess we’ll never know how many mass shootings have been prevented by background checks, but it often seems to be the case with the mass shooters who make the news that they either passed a background check or they took their weapon from someone who did. This would seem to suggest that background checks aren’t especially useful–in preventing mass shootings anyway.

    On the other hand, the government sure seems to be intent on keeping track of who owns a gun and with what accessories, and regardless of whether it’s legal for the FBI to keep a list of people who have passed a background check in the poast, I find it easy to believe that they do it anyway–for future reference.

    If the government ever starts taking confiscation seriously, I bet they’ll use lists of background checks from various sources to do it.

    1. *when

    2. True enough. But his story is not about guns, but about export controls. A different beast entirely.

      1. its an excuse they don’t need the app to track those who exported a specific type of scope, talk to those people not everyone else. Do we search all Chevys when a Ford was involved in a crime no.

    3. At a bare minimum, why wouldn’t the NSA be hoovering up all the background checks regardless of the law? They’re doing all other mass surveillance without a warrant. No reason to stop at background checks. Background checks for all transfers then equals de facto gun registration. Not to mention you’ve created a single tap that can, at will, turn off all lawful transfers, instantly creating a new class of felons that can be easily targeted for destruction. Then there’s also the fact that you can’t have effective confiscation without a preceding registration.

    4. In St. Louis this morning, the city government is considering a proposal that would force gun dealers to alert police whenever a background check fails.

      So you have an individual who tries to follow the rules and purchase a gun legally. Due to whatever the background check flagged, they do not get the gun. And now they are placed on a watch list of potential bad actors with the police. Nice. Tell me that won’t have a chilling effect on legal gun sales.

  5. The answer to this is for everyone to download the app. Go do it. I did. It is free. Let the feds sort through tens of millions of users.

    1. Pointless gesture. The Feds. are looking for usage of the app from overseas locations — something easily done by correlating IP address against a geoip database, no matter the data bulk. (Yes, I’m aware that using a VPN can circumvent the location process, but who uses a VPN when sighting in a scope?)

      You additional download does nothing more than cost some poor hardworking computer a few extra nanoseconds of search time. Probably increases global warming in the process.

      The actual answer is to donate some of your money to a libertarian-leaning organization like the Institute for Justice. Go do it now, and stop playing with your…computer.

      1. You are only guessing what their motive is and what they are doing.

        1. What relevance is their motive? Do you think these data will be hand-checked by some FBI agent sitting in a windowless room? Thinking a couple of thousand more downloads will present an iota of additional difficulty to our computerized masters betrays a deep technological ignorance.

          Or you’re just too lazy or cheap to do something actually worthwhile.

        2. Incidentally, I’m not “just guessing”. The Feds. *specified* why they wanted the data when they got the court order.

          It’s you who’s just guessing if you’re implying that’s not the case.

          1. you mean like when the feds got visa warrants to spy on Trump though his intermediaries. Feds don’t always tell teh real reason why they do things

            1. Woosh. That was the sound of my argument soaring far above your pointy little head.

              1. No, that’s *exactly* my argument, which whooshed right past your noggin.

                1. So your argument is that I’m “just guessing” when I quote the Feds.’ stated reason for the court order, but you aren’t guessing when you say they’re lying? That makes sense to you?

          2. They lie. The real reason they want the data is anything but what they actually put in the court order application. On the other hand, I don’t have enough information to hazard a guess as to what their real motive is.

      2. (Yes, I’m aware that using a VPN can circumvent the location process, but who uses a VPN when sighting in a scope?)

        The scope connects via bluetooth (or microHDMI or microSD slot). You only need the VPN when downloading the app. Assuming whomever sold/shipped the scope didn’t just download it onto a device for you.

        It’s a fishing expedition. They’re specifically trying to set the precedent that they can force companies to turn over such data not for violent crimes like the San Bernadino massacre, but for *suspected* property and trade crimes.

    2. If you don’t download the app it seems clear you’re trying to hide something.

    3. unless you have rifles then don’t down load the app

  6. “We’re from the Government, and we’re here to fuck you.”

  7. Real men use open sights – – – – – – –
    No privacy issues there.

    1. Open or iron sights don’t work so pretty good at a thousand yards.

  8. One question so far not asked or answered:
    on WHAT BASIS do FedGov have the uncontrollable urge to restrict export of a ipece of optical glass anyway?

    Why are they not monitoring and interdicting IMPORTS of certain illicit drugs,and the guns and alien mules who transport them? Seems THAT is a fer more signfiant and consequential activity than prowling about databases of US Citizens who MAY have downloaded an app……

  9. I don’t get it. How does the app tell them who exported it? Does it track the serial number of the foreign scope and then let them figure out who bought it?

    1. Man uses scope app. Scope app uses the internet. The internet requires an IP address. IP addresses can be foreign or domestic. Find foreign IP address from app usage to then find scope user to then backtrack how scope was obtained, legally or illegally. It’s a logical process except for the fishing net the FBI wants to use to capture the data. That’s the problem.

  10. “Meanwhile, a bunch of people have decided to download the Obsidian 4 app even though they don’t have rifle scopes, and then post reviews stating that they’re doing so to express their objection to the Justice Department’s actions.”

    Because FUCK YOU Justice Department.

  11. its a reason they needn’t bother with the application to follow the individuals who traded a particular sort of extension, converse with those individuals, not every other person. Do we search all Chevys when a Ford was associated with wrongdoing no?

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  13. It should be fairly obvious that “guns don’t kill people, apps kill people.”

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