The Wall Street Journal has recently reported the scope of techniques used by the FBI to spy on United States citizens, and for most they will prove considerably more shocking that the revelations shared by NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden. Snowden, who is presently living somewhere in Russia as he explores his options for permanent asylum in Latin America, simply reported on the metadata that the NSA has harvested and stored over the years.

The techniques detailed in the Wall Street Journal truly up the ante and show the scope of the technical capabilities of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

FBI

FBI using microphones on phones and computers

According to a former “U.S. official,” the FBI is currently activating the microphones on Android devices as well as laptop computers as it combats organized crime, terrorism, and child pornography.

According to the report, the FBI only resorts to these tactics when they “don’t have any other choice.” This is a terrifically vague statement that shouldn’t comfort many who read it. This ability to hijack microphones on both Android devices and laptops is done by remotely installing software on the suspects computer or phone through phishing techniques. After this Trojan is installed, the FBI tries to only harvest “relevant data”, another annoyingly vague statement. In addition to remote access, agents have been known to install software on a suspect’s computer through a USB drive when they have physical access. Screening teams are also used to determine what is “relevant data.”

FBI tries to find new communications tech

The tools it uses are both internally and externally sourced, with some coming from the private sector as would be expected. Hacking at the FBI under court order has gradually increased over the years, as law enforcement officials try to find ways to utilize new communication tech that’s more resistant to traditional surveillance methods like wiretapping.

This report and the inclusion of Android devices begs a question for many, “Is Google Involved?” As the sole makers of the Android OS, could this remote hijacking of a microphone be possible without it knowing about the program that the WSJ has outlined.

Now, I’m forgiving of nearly any technique that would make it easier for the FBI to go after terrorists and even more so with child pornographers, but the report does give pause.