The FBI may use Carrier IQ’s tracking software in investigations, after the agency refused to answer a Freedom of Information Act request, citing it would jeopardize ongoing cases.
Sunlight Foundation-funded organization MuckRock, which filed the request, asked the FBI to confirm whether or not it tracks suspects using Carrier IQ’s data. In response, the agency denied the request, stating it would jeopardize ongoing investigations. MuckRock is appealing the FBI’s refusal in an effort to force the agency to comply.
The FBI’s denial is seen by many as an admission it uses Carrier IQ in some capacity. The software is reportedly installed on millions of handsets and allegedly records and logs many user activities, including keystrokes.
If the FBI uses Carrier IQ, the agency probably doesn’t access keystroke data or other user-specific information since those activities put the agency in potential violation of federal wiretap laws.
However, investigators’ use of the tracking program to gather even general location or phone usage data has potential to launch even closer scrutiny of its investigative practices and further elevate privacy concerns.
Whether or not law enforcement can use tracking technology in investigations is a much-debated topic. The American Civil Liberties Union has called for greater explanation from law enforcement agencies on how they use cell phone data to track suspects, and views location tracking as a possible civil rights violation.
The U.S. Department of Justice is also required to reveal how it tracks suspects using cell phone data, and debate rages over whether law enforcement needs to obtain a warrant, showing probable cause to search a mobile device.
If the FBI continues to deny the request for information, the agency may find itself embroiled in the increasingly widening controversy surrounding Carrier IQ.
Many major handset makers and wireless carriers are facing lawsuits over possible privacy violations surrounding installation and use of the software, which surfaced last month.
Consumer groups and federal regulators are expected to continue to press Carrier IQ for transparency in how it collects, stores and uses information. Now that the FBI is possibly involved as well, scrutiny on the part of the public and regulators will likely escalate over how tracking impacts citizens’ rights.