World

The Connection Between a Deadly Gunfight and Phone Location Data

It’s a warm day in Greenville, Texas and two bounty-hunters walk into a Nissan dealership. They’re there to catch and apprehend a man wanted for failure to appear in court on a first-degree drug charge all the way in Minnesota. When they move to apprehend him, guns drawn, he pulls out his pistol. It falls on the table. He reaches for it.

What happens next is 20 gunshots in 6 six seconds with three dead bodies hitting the ground of that Nissan dealership.

What wasn’t immediately clear after this tragic incident that claimed the lives of the two bounty hunters, Fidel Garcia and Gabriel Bernal, and Ramon Hutchinson (the wanted man): someone was using controversial cell-phone tracking technology to pinpoint the location of one of their phones.

On this week’s CYBER, we talk to Motherboard reporter Joseph Cox who breaks down how the events in Greenville were connected to the proliferation of location-data technology sold by major telcos AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint and Verizon to middleman companies called “location aggregators,” who then make it available on the black market.

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