A South Carolina-based surveillance firm that has sold services to the U.S. military is promoting its ability to provide real-time location information about 15 billion cars every month.
The claims come from a document obtained by the office of U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) in which the company has detailed its capabilities. Wyden is investigating companies that sell the data of consumers.
The company says it can track cars through sensors in vehicle parts – either installed by the car company, or by the Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) – the company that provided the components.
The sensors collect information such as airbag and seatbelt status, engine temperature, and location, and then transmit that information either back to the car maker or to third parties.
Aggregator companies also purchase or obtain this data, repackage it, and then sell that data or products based on it to their own clients, Vice News reported on Wednesday.
Clients could include insurance companies, anti-terrorism agencies and the military
A South Carolina firm staffed by ex-military officials is offering car surveillance technology (stock photo)
The company’s president’s LinkedIn page gives an example of the type of surveillance available
The amount of people who have access to the highly personalized data may surprise many car owners.
‘The OEM will have first dibs to the data, because they made the car and have access to the telematics,’ said Andrea Amico, the founder of Privacy4Cars.
His company sells tools to help dealerships remove data from vehicles.
‘But 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.
The Ulysses Group is promoting ‘telematics’ – using GPS data to monitor vehicle movements
‘Right there and then you’ve got five companies that are getting your location,’ she told Vice.
The firm, The Ulysses Group, did not specifically say in the document who it wanted to sell the information to.
Car location data is of interest not just to insurance companies and the finance sector, but to government contractors who explicitly say they want to source the data for intelligence and surveillance purposes.
The document does, however, promote the company’s technology for use in military operations.
The Ulysses Group promoted a map showing the Iran-Syria-Iraq border regions and car data
‘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 [intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance] assets currently used to search for and acquire mobile targets of interest,’ the document adds.
It says that Ulysses has ‘existing access to bulk commercial telematics data.’
They provide a map showing apparent vehicle locations spread across Russia, Ukraine, and Turkey, including along the border with Syria.
A section of text next to the map says Ulysses’ data access lets clients analyze targets ‘whether you want to geo-locate one vehicle or 25,000,000 as shown here.’ An image on the company’s LinkedIn page appears to show data related to Bulgaria.
The Ulysses Group heavily promotes their military ties, boasting on its website of ‘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.’
On their website, they are currently recruiting for ‘Personnel Recovery Specialists’ – people who, in military jargon, track down missing military personnel.
The Ulysses Group is currently recruiting former Special Forces officers to work with them
They want former members of the Special Forces (SOF) with Top Secret security clearance (TS).
The candidate must have ‘nonconventional assisted recovery’ (NAR) or ‘unconventional assisted recovery’ (UAR) experience.
‘Ulysses is seeking former SOF personnel with Personnel Recovery experience – must have TS and experience with NAR / UAR, 943, and operations in a COM environment,’ they write.
Ulysses previously had a contract with U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM), though for a different piece of technology.
The Ulysses Group participated in a March 1-5 seminar held by the U.S. Navy, as part of their Joint Interagency Field Experimentation scheme.
The seminar was looking at how the armed forces could use artificial intelligence, drones and sensors, among other things.
‘We provide a realistic field environment with airspace, buildings, tunnels, forests, open plains, etc,’ the JIFX website states.
‘You provide an emerging technology to address challenges faced by the US Military Forces
‘Together we collaborate and learn about challenges your technology may address!’
The company is touting its services in a document entitled: ‘Telematics Intelligence Executive Summary’.
The document was obtained by Senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat representing Oregon, who then passed it on to Vice News’ Motherboard site.
Keith Chu, Wyden’s spokesman, told Motherboard that the senator was concerned about ‘this shady industry’.
‘Far too little is known about how private information is being bought and sold,’ Chu said.
‘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.’
Andrew Lewis, president of The Ulysses Group, told Vice News in an email that the document was ‘aspirational’ and they were not currently working with the government or its agencies.
‘Any proprietary promotional material we may have produced is aspirational and developed based on publicly available information about modern telematics equipment,’ Lewis told Vice.
‘We do not have any contracts with the government or any of its agencies related to our work in the field and we have never received any funding whatsoever from the government related to telematics.’