The DEA's using powerful spyware for surveillance too

The war on drugs has a surprising soldier amongst its ranks: Italian spying software. As Motherboard's sources tell it, the Drug Enforcement Administration's dropped $2.4 million on surveillance tools that are capable of intercepting phone calls, texts, social media messages, and can even take hold of someone's webcam and microphone. Oh, Remote Control System (as its officially called) can grab passwords, too. Almost sounds like a video game, right? The Hacking Team-developed software (the outfit behind Ethiopian cyberattacks on US journalists), can be installed on the sly and grants access to data that may very well be encrypted or otherwise inaccessible by other means. It comes hot on the heels of news that the DEA's been collecting phonecall metadata for an awfully lot longer than the NSA, too. Naturally, no one on either side of the story has been eager to open up to Motherboard, and presumably journalists in general.

Perhaps the biggest question this raises is if it's legal for law enforcement to hack perps. Motherboard's privacy analyst sources note that because the laws surrounding how these types of tools are "extremely unclear" it stands to reason that using RCS is possibly illegal. Given how it's rolled downhill from the intelligence community to law enforcement, there's a fear that it could eventually hit your local police department too. Remember, for law enforcement to do any sort of searches a judge needs to sign a warrant first.

And there's precedent for them smacking this sort of thing down: Judges have intervened and not allowed the FBI to use malware before. Hopefully this can spark a public debate and get the drug agency's use of RCS in front of government officials and formal investigation or reform can begin. Motherboard's piece is an excellent read, so be sure to hit the links below.

[Image credit: Anthony de Rosa/Flickr]