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Ron Johnson opens probe into CDC tracking Americans through phone data

Johnson said the tracking "really raises some very serious constitutional issues."

Published: May 9, 2022 8:31pm

Updated: May 9, 2022 10:05pm

Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson is investigating the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for tracking millions of Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The CDC paid one company $420,000 to access location data for at least 20 million cell phones a day, a Vice Motherboard investigation revealed last week. While the CDC claimed it needed access to the data to fight COVID, documents show the data was used "to support non-COVID-19 programmatic areas and public health priorities."

Johnson criticized the CDC's phone tracking efforts Monday on "Just the News – Not Noise."

"Just because data exists, doesn't mean that the government should be using it to track Americans, I would think that that really raises some very serious constitutional issues," Johnson noted.

In a letter to CDC Director Rochelle Walensky on Thursday, Johnson wrote, "It remains unclear why the CDC tracked millions of Americans during the pandemic and whether it continues to do so. In response to COVID-19, the CDC should have been prioritizing the development of treatments, effective testing, and vaccine safety rather than tracking Americans’ daily lives."

He demanded answers from the CDC on the purchase and use of location data, including whether the agency used other mechanisms to monitor Americans throughout the pandemic. 

Johnson told editor-in-chief John Solomon, "I think the government is becoming way too big, and way too powerful."

The Wisconsin Republican serves as ranking member of the Homeland Security Committee's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. He said he sent out dozens of oversight letters to federal agencies to ask about their COVID response, but has gotten "very few answers."

Since serving as Homeland Security Committee chair, "congressional oversight has been dramatically weakened, mainly because we have no enforcement mechanism," Johnson said.

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