The FBIâ€™s petition to plant spyware on suspectsâ€™ computers to harvest information helpful for an investigation has been dismissed by a judge in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas.
The petition was sent in March, when the FBI sought a warrant to search a computer of an unknown suspect at an unknown location, in relation to e-banking fraud.
According to Computerworld, the software would disclose the location of the device, take snapshots of the suspects using the device via the webcam and exfiltrate browsing activity, firewall logs, caches, cookies, bookmarks and search queries.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Stephen Smith dismissed the request in a 13-page ruling this week, as this type of search would be â€œoverly intrusive and infringing on Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search.â€
“In between snapping photographs, the government will have real time access to the camera’s video feed. That amounts to video surveillance,” ruled the judge.
Another reason for dismissing the petition was that IP addresses can be easily spoofed, so the FBI could end up investigating an innocent user. Jurisdiction was also a key concern, as the computer could be located anywhere, even outside the jurisdiction of the United States.
Government espionage for crime investigation has gained a lot of traction lately. A number of governments, including repressive regimes, are known to use cyber-surveillance solutions such as the FinFisher (FinSpy) to monitor citizensâ€™ online behavior and information exchange.