“The most powerful FBI surveillance software can covertly download files, photographs and stored e-mails, or even gather real-time images by activating cameras connected to computers, say court documents and people familiar with this technology,” Craig Timberg and Ellen Nakashima report for The Washington Post.

“Online surveillance pushes the boundaries of the constitution’s limits on searches and seizures by gathering a broad range of information, some of it without direct connection to any crime. Critics compare it to a physical search in which the entire contents of a home are seized, not just those items suspected to offer evidence of a particular offense,” Timberg and Nakashima report. “A federal magistrate in Denver approved sending surveillance software to [suspect's] computer last year. [The suspect had made a series of bomb threats across the United States.] Not all such requests are welcomed by the courts: An FBI plan to send surveillance software to a suspect in a different case — one that involved activating a suspect’s built-in computer camera — was rejected by a federal magistrate in Houston, who ruled that it was “extremely intrusive” and could violate the Fourth Amendment.”

“The FBI has been able to covertly activate a computer’s camera — without triggering the light that lets users know it is recording — for several years, and has used that technique mainly in terrorism cases or the most serious criminal investigations, said Marcus Thomas, former assistant director of the FBI’s Operational Technology Division in Quantico, now on the advisory board of Subsentio, a firm that helps telecommunications carriers comply with federal wiretap statutes,” Timberg and Nakashima report. “The ability to remotely activate video feeds was among the issues cited in a case in Houston, where federal magistrate Judge Stephen W. Smith rejected a search warrant request from the FBI in April. In that case, first reported by the Wall Street Journal, Smith ruled that the use of such technology in a bank fraud case was ‘extremely intrusive’ and ran the risk of accidentally capturing information of people not under suspicion of any crime. Smith also said that a magistrate’s court based in Texas lacked jurisdiction to approve a search of a computer whose location was unknown. He wrote that such surveillance software may violate the Fourth Amendment’s limits on unwarranted searches and seizures.”

Tons more in the full article here.

[Thanks to MacDailyNews readers too numerous to mention individually for the heads up.]

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