After Eric Snowden had leaked that the NSA has been tracking your call list through a government program called PRISM, we’re now hearing that the FBI is going above and beyond that with software that can activate your Android smartphone’s microphone at any time to listen in on your conversations. Think Snowden’s NSA was bad? The FBI’s snooping campaign bests anything we’ve heard so far from PRISM.
According to a report on the Wall Street Journal, the FBI has hacking technology that can remotely activate the microphone on either a laptop or an Android smartphone. The danger here is that the activation of the microphone to snoop isn’t necessarily related to just phone calls, but can be activated even when you’re not on the phone. This would give the FBI access to conversations that you have in-person with another person if the agency remotely activates the device’s microphone at the opportune time.
Fortunately, though, despite the privacy breach being greater than that performed by the NSA, the FBI’s hacking is thus far targeted at criminals, and not civilians and law abiding citizens.
“The bureau typically uses hacking in cases involving organized crime, child pornography or counterterrorism, a former U.S. official said,” the Journal reported.
In a twist of irony, the FBI will try to not use its hacking tools to target other hackers for fear of being discovered and publicly humiliated. These tools are either developed internally or acquired through the private sector.
There are various tools that the Bureau could use, and sometimes a search warrant is applied for while in other cases the agency did not disclose how it got access prompting privacy concerns.
Since at least 2005, the FBI has been using “web bugs” that can gather a computer’s Internet address, lists of programs running and other data, according to documents disclosed in 2011. The FBI used that type of tool in 2007 to trace a person who was eventually convicted of emailing bomb threats in Washington state, for example.
A warrant was obtained in the 2007 case despite the FBI not physically ‘touching’ the computer, one component that is examined to determine if a warrant is necessary.
However, in a 2001 case where mobster Nicodermo Scarfo Jr. was later convicted, the FBI was criticized in not disclosing how it was able to install a program to record keystrokes to passwords that were later used to decrypt documents from Scarfo’s computer.
With investigations being more secret operations, the FBI doesn’t readily disclose any person it’s tracking, monitoring, or attempting to hack into. At the end of the day, anyone using an Android smartphone or a laptop with a microphone could be at risk to FBI hacking. Given that Android is vulnerable, that could mean that the government could potentially be watching and listening into your reality through Google Glass.