Monday 22 October 2018
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US: Government Has Planted Spy Phones With Suspects

Expand Excerpt from 2014 court document describing US Drug Enforcement Administration s undercover distribution of compromised phones. © 2018 Human Rights Watch (Washington, DC) – United States law enforcement has used undercover distributions of phones to monitor suspects’ activities, raising rights concerns, Human Rights Watch said today. The Justice Department should disclose its policies regarding the tactic and whether it is currently being used.  Human Rights Watch has identified two forms of this technique that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has used or, evidence suggests, has contemplated using. One involved the undercover sale of BlackBerry devices whose individual encryption keys the DEA possessed, enabling the agency to decode messages sent and received by suspects. The second, as described in a previously unreported internal email belonging to the surveillance software company Hacking Team, may have entailed installing monitoring software on a significant number of phones before attempting to put them into suspects’ hands. “Putting a smartphone whose security has been compromised into circulation could create privacy and security risks for anyone who ultimately uses that device and jeopardize free expression,” said Sarah St.Vincent, researcher on US surveillance and domestic law enforcement at Human Rights Watch. “Who’s going to speak freely on the phone if they have to worry about whether it’s bugged?” Both techniques for distributing compromised phones raise human rights concerns for a broader range of smartphone users, including peaceful activists whose groups may be at risk of government monitoring and non-suspects who may obtain the compromised phones. They also prompt questions about what rights protections the government is applying if the tactic remains in use. The DEA’s use of the first technique is revealed in court documents filed in 2012 and 2014 du

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