FBI: Are They Taking Over Your Webcam?

FBI: Are They Taking over Your Webcam?

The FBI has the capability of hacking into your laptop’s software and taking over your webcam. They have developed this technology as a way to keep tabs on criminals, though they need a court order to do so, and so far, the FBI has only been allowed to take over webcams in cases where the criminal might be a terrorist or has committed other very serious crimes which warrant such an invasion of personal privacy.

An example of the FBI’s use of this hack was written about in the Washington Post. It’s about the FBI attempting to track down and capture a criminal known as “Mo” who is alleged to have made numerous bomb threats to various authorities.

Marcus Thomas is one of the FBI agents that the article refers to by name. He used to be employed at the FBI’s Operational Technology Division. According to Thomas, FBI software can take over a laptop’s webcam without the green warning light coming on that would usually indicate that the webcam is on.

The article also states that the FBI often tries the phishing technique of installing malware to target email addresses of alleged criminals they are investigating, much as some spammers do who try to hack into your social media accounts.

According to the principal technologist for the AMerican Civil Liberties Union, Christopher Soghoian, to the Washington Post, we now live in “a world where law enforcement is hacking into people’s computers” and there has never really been any “public debate” about it. “Judges,” he continued, “are having to make up these powers as they go along.”

What else is the FBI doing with your computers?

The FBI has also developed a diagnostics program that is able to produce a detailed breakdown of any computer’s installed applications and its configuration. Besides this, photos, documents, and emails can be downloaded covertly by the FBI. They must, though, first apply to a federal magistrate for permission to monitor someone who they suspect is involved in criminal activity.

The FBI isn’t allowed to just go on a “fishing expedition,” according to law professor Laura K. Donahue, who is also quoted in the Washington Post.There needs to be a strong link, or connection, “between the crime being alleged and the material to be seized.”

In the example of “Mo” the courts allowed the FBI to collect virtually everything related to the crimes he was allegedly threatening. Last year,”Mo” threatened to blow up, according to the Post, colleges and airports, unless James Holmes, who allegedly killed 12 people in a movie theater in the denver area in 2012, was freed.

At first, when “Mo” contacted them in July 2012, the FBI thought that he might be communicating to them from somewhere in Iran, as he sent them photographs of himself dressed in an Iranian military uniform. He hid his true location through the use of various computer programs.

The court order which the FBI obtained only allowed them a two-week window to try to get “Mo” to activate the malware by signing on. The FBI were, eventually, successful at getting “Mo” to sign on. Then, the FBI realized “Mo” was in Tehran.

“Mo” is one of what is reported to be a handful of people who the FBI have used these methods of gathering information on. According to Marcus Thomas, the FBI has had the ability to take over a laptop’s webcam for quite a few years now, though it’s rarely been used.

Critics argue that the powers the FBI have to invade the privacy of people are to broad and that they collect information unrelated to the alleged crimes. With the advancement of technology, judges have been asked increasingly to make rulings on privacy issues such as when an organization like the FBI can obtain information from computers, how it can be done, and the sort of information that can be collected.

Written by:  Douglas Cobb


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