Tuesday, May 10, 2016

US Government Study of Spyware - Possible Precursor to New Laws

Why GAO Did This Study
Smartphone tracking apps exist that allow a person to not only surreptitiously track another person’s smartphone location information, but also surreptitiously intercept the smartphone’s communications—such as texts, e-mails, and phone calls. This type of monitoring—without a person’s knowledge or consent—can present serious safety and privacy risks...

The federal government has undertaken educational, enforcement, and legislative efforts to protect individuals from the use of surreptitious tracking apps, but stakeholders differed over whether current federal laws need to be strengthened to combat stalking. Educational efforts by the Department of Justice (DOJ) have included funding for the Stalking Resource Center, which trains law enforcement officers, victim service professionals, policymakers, and researchers on the use of technology in stalking. With regard to enforcement, DOJ has prosecuted a manufacturer and an individual under the federal wiretap statute for the manufacture or use of a surreptitious tracking app.

Some stakeholders believed the federal wiretap statute should be amended to explicitly include the interception of location data and DOJ has proposed amending the statute to allow for the forfeiture of proceeds from the sale of smartphone tracking apps and to make the sale of such apps a predicate offense for money laundering. Stakeholders differed in their opinions on the applicability and strengths of the relevant federal laws and the need for legislative action. Some industry stakeholders were concerned that legislative actions could be overly broad and harm legitimate uses of tracking apps. However, stakeholders generally agreed that location data can be highly personal information and are deserving of privacy protections. more full study