Spy(ware) Vs. Spy(ware): Indictments For One Creator, Law Enforcement Plaudits For The Other
from the it's-like-they-don't-even-hear-the-words-coming-out-of-their-mouths dept
Compare and contrast:
Alerts for terms used in Chat or Texting.
Access to videos as well as web, camera and cell phone images loaded on device.
Review & delete images.
Email, Print or Save results.
View Internet History Log.
View sent/received text messages.
Look at photos, videos, music stored on device.
View visited sites and bookmarks.
Alerts for suspicious words.
One of these products is handed out by law enforcement agencies. One just had its creator arrested after an FBI investigation.
Product A is ComputerCOP, a deeply-flawed set of tools that allows parents to spy on their children’s computer activities, provided they don’t mind getting hundreds of false positives returned during searches or having passwords stored as plaintext by the built-in keylogger.
Product B is StealthGenie, a piece of software aimed at giving the inherently suspicious (or routinely cuckolded) person surreptitious access to everything on their significant other’s phone. The full set of features included are astounding, including location info, email access, eavesdropping via the built-in mic and the perverse ability to lock or wipe someone else’s phone.
It’s not that the FBI was wrong to shut down the sale of this software, even if it does sound like the sort of thing the agency wishes it could deploy rather than terminate. It’s that the law enforcement-approved tool set overlaps so heavily with something aimed at tearing the digital roof off someone else’s life.
ComputerCOP — unlike the more (necessarily) targeted StealthGenie — doesn’t ultimately care who’s using the device it’s installed on. You may just want to track your kids’ internet activity, but anyone who uses it while it’s activated will have their web history — along with any keystrokes entered — automatically logged. If anything, ComputerCOP is a cheap, legal alternative to StealthGenie, even if it’s strictly limited to personal computers.
But one of these is being handed out by law enforcement agencies without any oversight (and with loads of misinformation). The other was the subject of a federal investigation. There’s a certain amount of disconnection here, similar to law enforcement’s use of encryption to protect themselves from criminals but wanting to deny the public the same option.
Just replace “StealthGenie” with “ComputerCOP” in these statements from the FBI’s press release and see if it ultimately makes any difference. [h/t to Techdirt reader Will Klein]
“Selling spyware is not just reprehensible, it’s a crime,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell. “Apps like StealthGenie are expressly designed for use by stalkers and domestic abusers who want to know every detail of a victim’s personal life — all without the victim’s knowledge.”
“StealthGenie has little use beyond invading a victim’s privacy” said U.S. Attorney Boente. “Advertising and selling spyware technology is a criminal offense, and such conduct will be aggressively pursued by this office and our law enforcement partners.”
“This application allegedly equips potential stalkers and criminals with a means to invade an individual’s confidential communications,” said FBI Assistant Director in Charge McCabe. “They do this not by breaking into their homes or offices, but by physically installing spyware on unwitting victims’ phones and illegally tracking an individual’s every move. As technology continues to evolve, the FBI will investigate and bring to justice those who use illegal means to monitor and track individuals without their knowledge.”
Spyware is spyware, whether it’s sporting a uniform and a badge or an orange jumpsuit and handcuffs.