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Smile! You Could Be on FBI Camera: How the Government Is Using Cell Phones and Webcams to Spy on Suspects

Brian J Smith March 1, 2014

The New York Times recently issued an alarming report about the FBI’s increasingly sophisticated use of electronic surveillance methods to spy on suspects. Agents have reportedly been hacking into suspects’ computers and mobile devices in order to collect their files and monitor their activity around the clock. The level of access the agency’s been able to achieve to citizens’ data and communications is unprecedented, making the NSA’s highly publicized collection of telephone and email meta-data seem mild in comparison.

According to the Times, FBI agents are employing the same methods that most hackers use to gain entry into suspects’ electronic devices, delivering spyware through web and email links. When users click on these links, the FBI’s spyware installs itself and can be operated remotely by agents in order to collect any and all files on a computer, phone or tablet, as well as activate recording devices for ongoing surveillance. Agents can generate real-time photos, videos and audio recordings of users interacting with devices they carry with them wherever they go. An official at the FBI confirmed that microphones can be run remotely on Android phones and tablets to record conversations 24 hours a day.

FBI agents must obtain search warrants each time they utilize these electronic surveillance technologies. The standards for securing warrants that involve monitoring suspects by webcam and microphone are also stricter than those set for warrants that rely on less intrusive data-gathering methods.

Is law enforcement going too far?

Even with these safeguards in place, however, the FBI’s techniques raise significant questions about how well our constitutional right to privacy can be effectively preserved in the coming months and years. Surveillance technologies are proliferating and evolving at breakneck speed. Those who develop and utilize these technologies possess highly sophisticated and specialized knowledge about how they work and what they’re capable of accomplishing out in the field. The criminal justice system is working hard to keep pace, but judges who issue search warrants can’t be expected to achieve and maintain high-level expertise in surveillance technology and its potential applications. The likelihood that civil liberties will be undermined as electronic data-collection efforts increase is certain.

Why hiring a good lawyer is important

A lawyer who understands surveillance procedures and knows the justice system well has the power to protect your freedom in this brave new world of electronic monitoring, by intervening on your behalf to ensure the police don’t violate your rights as a citizen. This is why it’s critical to retain an experienced and well-informed lawyer to stand by your side and defend you in matters involving the criminal justice system, now and in the future.

Photo courtesy of geralt,

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