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Big brother may be hacking

Federal law enforcement may now hack into a phone, laptop or other electronic devices for many types of sensitive and confidential information. This raises many serious issues about privacy intrusion, taking advantage of unpatched vulnerabilities in electronic devices and software and illegal search and seizure.

Federal agents, through hacking, can also activate the camera and microphone of an electronic device, log keystones or take over its functions. Users of these devices are often unaware that they are under surveillance.

According to the ACLU, the federal government took over an internet hosting service and set up a watering hole attack that spread malware to visitors of websites on the server. An FBI agent in another investigation of fake bomb threats impersonated an Associated press reporter, deployed malware on the suspect's computer, created a false story and sent a link for the story to a high school student. The website then implanted malware on the student's computer and reported identifying information back to the FBI.

The FBI, according to media reports, is using these techniques for investigations of ordinary federal crimes. Last month the FBI impersonated FedEx and created malware-filed Word documents and images to investigate an internet scammer who believed to have allegedly defrauded the Wegmans chain on seafood orders.

The federal government has also increased spending on these techniques. The DEA spent almost $1 million on remote hacking technology sold by an Italian surveillance technology firm, according to the ACLU.

Last Dec., the ACLU and the University of Buffalo Law School's Civil Liberties & Transparency Clinic filed a Freedom of Information lawsuit seeking disclosure information about government hacking from several federal agencies. These include the FBI, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the DEA. The lawsuit is seeking information on hacking tools and methods, the frequency of their use, their legal basis, internal rules governing their use and internal audits or investigations.

This evidence can have long-term consequences and play a major role in criminal charges. Anyone who is being investigated or prosecuted with this information or under surveillance through hacking should seek immediate legal representation to assure their rights are protected.

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