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FBI can remotely activate microphones, cameras

Keeping up with the times, the FBI uses surveillance methods that are more sophisticated than the commonly understood wiretap, details of which have been unveiled by a former U.S. official.



FBI has high-tech capabilities

Amidst the ongoing discoveries surrounding the National Security Agency’s (NSA) surveillance of the American population, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) has uncovered that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is capable of remotely activating microphones on Android devices as well as laptops, citing a “former U.S. official” who adds that the most common reasons for using this tactic is cases involving counter-terrorism, organized crime, or child pornography.

The number of court orders involving the FBI hacking in this manner is on the rise as the agency adapts to modern technology as the world is no longer landlines and carrier pigeons. There is tension, however, between the FBI and the courts, as not all requests are approved – the WSJ points to a Texas identity-theft case which sought to use the suspects’ built-in computer camera which the judge denied, citing concerns over how the data would be collected and used while still protecting the innocent.

For nearly a decade, the Bureau has used “web bugs” to collect IP addresses, lists of programs, and other data, according to a 2011 report on surveillance methods.

When the FBI uses these methods

The WSJ’s source says the FBI uses these methods when they feel they have no other options and they typically gain access by installing surveillance tools remotely, either through malicious software using a thumb drive or a link that once clicked or viewed unknowingly adds software to the computer, just like phishing scammers do.

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This source also states that the Bureau attempts to ensure only “relevant data” are gathered through these surveillance missions, using a screening team that manually reviews relevance before sharing information with investigators and then ending their work on the case.

It appears that most of the surveillance is being done on desktops, laptops, and Android devices, and while many have long suspected their devices have been used as listening devices via microphone or viewing devices via built-in camera, until now, details of the actual process have remained a closely guarded secret.

Written By

Marti Trewe reports on business and technology news, chasing his passion for helping entrepreneurs and small businesses to stay well informed in the fast paced 140-character world. Marti rarely sleeps and thrives on reader news tips, especially about startups and big moves in leadership.



  1. gradyphilpott

    August 11, 2013 at 1:15 am

    Landlines can also have the microphones remotely activated, in a manner of speaking. Actually, the microphones on landline telephones never stop operating and only need to be tapped into, whether the phone is on the hook or not.

    Cellphones can at least be turned off or the battery removed for those who feel that they require privacy to that extent.

  2. survon1

    August 22, 2013 at 12:56 am

    That is why I proudly parade around all day in my drawers and watch TV and compute the email and news stories all day. They need to go blind.

  3. Cliff Wright

    September 15, 2013 at 1:31 am

    onstar is another one they can use

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