As we all know, laptops come with a webcam, standard, these days. It’s been that way for a while. And they also come with a method for letting you know that camera is on. Unless the FBI is watching you, it turns out.
According to the Washington Post, the FBI has admitted that it can turn on your laptop webcam whenever it feels like it. But don’t worry! They totally only do that for terrorists!
Such high-tech search tools, which the FBI calls “network investigative techniques,” have been used when authorities struggle to track suspects who are adept at covering their tracks online. The most powerful FBI surveillance software can covertly download files, photographs and stored e-mails, or even gather real-time images by activating webcams connected to computers, say court documents and people familiar with this technology.
To be fair, the FBI can’t do this willy-nilly: They have to get a warrant to use this particular piece of software, just like any other piece of surveillance gear, and apparently their requests to do so get rejected a lot. That’s a lot better than the NSA, with its “51% confidence that somebody’s not a US citizen”, which worked out exactly the way we all thought it would. Also, if you’re really worried about this, five cents of gaff tape over the lens will solve this problem quite handily.
That said, though, it’s a little creepy that this technology is widely available and likely more commonly used than the FBI would care to admit. One of the problems with this technology is that it can inadvertently gather all sorts of stuff, from innocuous VoIP calls to what’s likely an impressive gallery of O-faces, that isn’t related to the crime and isn’t what the FBI should be doing.
We need to have more laws about this type of equipment, and more discussions about when and where it should be used. Also, we have to admit, we want to talk to the guys stuck watching the feeds, because considering what webcams are generally used for, they might need a shoulder to cry on.