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Not Just The NSA: DEA Also Spending Millions To Purchase Exploits And Spyware

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04/22/2015 03:07 PM
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Not Just The NSA: DEA Also Spending Millions To Purchase Exploits And Spyware
[link to www.blacklistednews.com]
Source: Tech Dirt

As more information leaks out into the public domain, the only difference between the NSA and the DEA seems to be the selection of letters in their acronyms. Both are now known for their bulk domestic collections and both are known for being involved in neverending wars. Now, thanks to Privacy International and Vice's Motherboard, both are known for purchasing weaponized software.

The Drug Enforcement Administration has been buying spyware produced by the controversial Italian surveillance tech company Hacking Team since 2012, Motherboard has learned.

The software, known as Remote Control System or “RCS,” is capable of intercepting phone calls, texts, and social media messages, and can surreptitiously turn on a user’s webcam and microphone as well as collect passwords.

The DEA originally placed an order for the software in August of 2012, according to both public records and sources with knowledge of the deal.

The problem with the DEA's purchase and deployment of this malware is that tools normally used to engage in the protection of national security -- by military and intelligence agencies -- are being handed out to US law enforcement without the slightest concern for the Fourth Amendment or privacy implications. There's a level of intrusion present here that's never been examined by the courts. Not that the DEA would ever allow details on Hacking Team's products to ever enter a courtroom in the first place. Hacking Team's spy products are one of many secret law enforcement capabilities -- something that must never be spoken of in public forums.

The capabilities detailed here far surpass anything that could be obtained with a search warrant or court order. The DEA's phone metadata collection may still fall under the Third Party Doctrine, but it's hard to believe anything obtained via the hijacking of cameras, computers and phones would be signed off on by magistrate judges.

There is unclear statutory authority authorising the deployment of spyware by US federal or law enforcement agencies, meaning that deployment of the RCS by the DEA or the Army is potentially unlawful under US law. Furthermore, because RCS is designed to be usable against targets even while they are outside of the end-user's legal jurisdiction, it raises serious legal questions concerning the ability of US agencies and the military to target individuals based outside of the United States.

Privacy International -- which has been tracking private companies in the spyware business for years -- is bringing Hacking Team's activities to the Italian government's attention.

Hacking Team has confirmed that their product has since 1st January 2015 been subject to export restrictions from the Italian government, which is the first step in ensuring that these types of technologies are not exported and used for human rights violations. This means that the Italian export authority now has to assess and approve any export of Hacking Team's products in order for a sale to go ahead.

How the Italian government now assesses any potential exports is unclear. Although EU export control regulations stipulate that in circumstances where an export is going to a military end-user the licensing authority should look at a set of criteria which contain human clauses, in practice this rule is implemented disparately across the European Union member states.

Much like many weapons are subject to export restrictions, so are certain kinds of software. Hacking Team's offerings have been sold all over the world -- and not just to the "good guys." PI says it has evidence this software has been sold to governments known for human rights abuses and has been deployed to surveil journalists and activists.

Last Edited by SHR on 02/20/2016 02:38 PM
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01/22/2016 10:40 AM
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Re: Not Just The NSA: DEA Also Spending Millions To Purchase Exploits And Spyware
The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.