Print 12 comment(s) - last by spread.. on Dec 15 at 2:06 AM

It's unclear whether Carrier IQ is on the giving or receiving end

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigations has come up with all sorts of creative ways to track U.S. citizens.  From warrantless GPS planting, to subpoenas that force cellular service providers to track your phone using signal triangulation, there are plenty of ways the feds can track you these days with a lack warrants and accountability/judicial oversight.

It looks like the now infamous Carrier IQ may be added to the tracking tool bag.  

Michael Morisy, founder of the investigative journalism blog MuckRock, filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the FBI, asking if they used Carrier IQ.  The FBI issued a response refusing Mr. Morisy's request for information.

Writes FBI records management official David Hardy:

In applying this exemption, I have determined that the records responsive to your request are law enforcement records; that there is a pending or prospective law enforcement proceeding relevant to these responsive records; and that release of the information contained in these responsive records could reasonably be expected to interfere with the enforcement proceedings.

Now there's two possibilities as Mr. Morisy pointed out.  First, the FBI may be investigating Carrier IQ.  That's certainly feasible.  The service has been admonished by Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) and targeted with multiple class action lawsuits.

The other possibility is that the FBI is using Carrier IQ for tracking.  This is also certainly feasible.  Our own analysis of Carrier IQ code indicated that it was gathering and sending the user's GPS location latitude and longitude, as indicated by the debug stream.

While the potential for third party attacks and/or password keylogging was exaggerated, according to decompilation of Carrier IQ code from a HTC Corp. (TPE:2498) device, the potential for government mandated location tracking is certainly very feasible. 

Eye watching
[Image Source: Shepard Fairey; Fair Use clause TITLE 17 > CHAPTER 1 > § 107]

Even if the carriers and/or OEMs are doing the proper step of anonymizing and encrypting the usage data (which includes the GPS location) of the mobile devices they receive from the deployed Carrier IQ app, there's a good potential that they could be asked by federal agencies like the FBI to incorporate an "off switch" black-list into the anoymization process, which would allow for certain devices to be tracked.

Now this kind of tracking is already available, as mentioned, via signal triangulation.  But direct GPS access would allow government agents to track you with unprecedented accuracy without any additional hardware.

Of course, such tracking would not be without its limitations.  It would require the user's device to be on.  And given that many criminal types already realize the danger of triangulation, they may unwittingly disable Carrier IQ's more precise tracking as well, by turning off their device.  In that regard Carrier IQ offers a slightly inferior solution to planting of discrete GPS devices.

If the tracking is indeed being used, as with the general gripes agaisnt Carrier IQ, there are glaring issues, but the important thing to emphasize is that the problems are related to implementation, not these practices themselves.  Most people would agree its a good idea to track and capture criminals.  The issue is that with warrantless tracking, there's a high potential for abuse and corruption at a government scale, which in the worse case could be used to support suppression of dissent against the ruling party (as has been depicted in many sci-fi works).

It's possible that Carrier IQ is both on the giving and receiving end -- investigated by the FBI on consumer complaints, but cooperating with the FBI on location tracking.

Carrier IQ has reportedly been installed on 140 million smartphones worldwide, most of which are in the U.S.

Sources: MuckRock [Request], [Denial]

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If only...
By kjboughton on 12/13/2011 3:06:10 PM , Rating: 4
I wish someone would plant a GPU on my vehicle. That would be awesome.

RE: If only...
By Omega215D on 12/13/2011 6:00:58 PM , Rating: 4
what if that GPU ended up being a GeForce FX?

RE: If only...
By spread on 12/15/2011 2:06:17 AM , Rating: 2
Makes the car sound like it has more horsepower.

Merry Christmas
By wordsworm on 12/13/2011 3:06:18 PM , Rating: 4
He sees you when you're sleeping,
He knows when you're awake...
He knows if you've been bad or good...
The FBI is coming, to town!!!

RE: Merry Christmas
By chmilz on 12/13/2011 3:28:39 PM , Rating: 2
All your datas are belong to us

You Might...
By mmatis on 12/13/2011 4:10:52 PM , Rating: 2
want to note that the Federal Government has previously admitted to remotely turning on a cell phone that was turned off. The brand and model was not identified, they claimed to have obtained a warrant to do the deed, and they did not identify HOW they turned on the device. But they DID use audio evidence they claimed to have obtained from the device in a court case that resulted in a conviction.

RE: You Might...
By GuinnessKMF on 12/13/2011 4:42:01 PM , Rating: 2
I don't think he'll want to note any of that without a source.

RE: You Might...
By Black1969ta on 12/14/2011 10:38:17 AM , Rating: 2
I call BS since a Hardware key press is required to power on any device that is not connected to some kind of powered network. ie... Wake-on-LAN, If a cell phone is powered off then the radio is off so it can't receive a signal to turn it on!

The real truth
By MechanicalTechie on 12/13/2011 6:01:50 PM , Rating: 3
Guilty until proven Innocent!

Sad but true.. this is how the world is seen by the authorities

Nixon Or Sci-fi?
By toyotabedzrock on 12/13/2011 6:35:44 PM , Rating: 2
The first thing I think of is how this reminds me of Nixon, and of the over aggressive prosecutors who seem to go after the wrong people far to often.

Easily circumvented
By zmatt on 12/13/2011 11:50:09 PM , Rating: 2
Just run a custom rom of android on your phone and remove any carrier IQ software.

Thank you Captain Obvious !
By Subzero0000 on 12/14/2011 2:31:15 AM , Rating: 2
Of course, such tracking would not be without its limitations. It would require the user's device to be on. And given that many criminal types already realize the danger of triangulation, they may unwittingly disable Carrier IQ's more precise tracking as well, by turning off their device. In that regard Carrier IQ offers a slightly inferior solution to planting of discrete GPS devices.

Oh my gosh, you can stop tracking by turning off the phone? That's amazing ! Carrier IQ is no longer a concern ! It has big limitation because people don't use their phones.

"I'd be pissed too, but you didn't have to go all Minority Report on his ass!" -- Jon Stewart on police raiding Gizmodo editor Jason Chen's home

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