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US defense company claims it can track nearly any vehicle in real-time globally

Cars driving on the highway. (PxFuel/Released)
March 18, 2021

A defense contractor says it has worldwide motor vehicle location data and wants to use it to assist U.S. federal agencies in their spying and military operations, according to documents revealed this week.

The Ulysses Group, which conducts operational and intelligence support, geolocation collection and analysis, threat and vulnerability assessments and more, claims to have access to “over 15 billion vehicle locations” globally each month, with data able to be viewed “historically” or in real-time.

According to a document obtained by Senator Ron Wyden and shared with Gizmodo, the group says it can “remotely geolocate” vehicles in “nearly any country,” with Cuba and North Korea excluded.

“The Ulysses Group provides telematics based location intelligence, in both real time and historical formats. The data can be used to geo-locate, track and target time sensitive mobile targets, tip and cue other sensors, develop patterns of life, identify networks and relationships, and enhance situational awareness among many other applications,” the document states.

“Ulysses’ analysis, and existing access to bulk commercial telematics data, represents a revolutionary opportunity to collect and analyze real time data on mobile targets anywhere in the world without deploying into harm’s way – whether you want to geo-locate one vehicle or 25,000,000.”

As cars become more connected to the internet, they also generate an increasing amount of data, including location, usage rates, internal media and communications preferences and external road conditions, Gizmodo noted.

“Vehicle location data is transmitted on a constant and near real time basis while the vehicle is operating,” Ulysses states in the document. “We believe that this one attribute will dramatically enhance military intelligence and operational capabilities, as well as reduce the costs and risk footprint of ISR assets [intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance] currently used to search for and acquire mobile targets of interest.”

According to the company, the amount of data is expected to continue growing. “By 2025 it is estimated that 100% of new cars will be connected [to the internet] at some level – each transmitted more than 25 gigabytes of data per hour,” the company said.

The office of Sen. Wyden initially provided the document to Motherboard, and Keith Chu, a spokesperson for the senator, said in a statement that “Far too little is known about how private information is being bought and sold. Senator Wyden is conducting an ongoing investigation into the sale of personal data, particularly via data brokers, to put some sunlight on this shady industry. Our office is continuing to perform oversight into where data brokers are acquiring Americans’ information, and who they’re selling it to.”

Based in South Carolina, Ulysses website says its company has been composed of former military and intelligence officials since the early 2000s. Andrew Lewis, the defense contractor’s president, formerly served in the Department of Defense.

“Our staff includes representatives with experience from Army Special Forces, 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, Naval Special Warfare Groups, Ground Branch, Office of the Secretary of Defense (Policy), Office of the Under Secretary of Defense (Intelligence), Joint Special Operations Command, and the Asymmetric Warfare Group,” Ulysses website states.

Gizmodo reported that it is unclear where the company is accessing it’s data from, but Andrea Amico, founder of Privacy4Cars, told Vice a wide variety of sources could provide the information.

“…the company that provides the map itself, for instance, would have access to it; the company that provides the infotainment system may have access to it; the company that provides the traffic data may have access to it; the company that provides the parking data may have access to it. Right there and then you’ve got five companies that are getting your location,” she said.