Widespread Smart Phone Spying is ‘Unprecedented breach of digital privacy’: Lawyers

“Unprecedented breach of the digital privacy rights of 150 million cell phone users” claims multiple class actions that target cellphone manufacturers and service providers for spying on your every keystroke.

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Multiple class actions across the country name service providers AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile, as well as major manufacturers Apple, Motorola, and Samsung for violating the Federal Wiretap Act, the Stored Electronic Communications Act, and the Federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

Lawyers who filed the class action complaint in Federal Court said in a press release that the case is an “unprecedented breach of the digital privacy rights of 150 million cell phone users.”

The complaints claim that software designed and sold by Carrier IQ, Inc. was secretly “spying on the activities of smart phone users with a device that tracks key strokes and sends the information to carriers.” This included “tracking personal and sensitive information of the cell phone users without the consent or knowledge of the users.”

Courthouse News points out, “The device, which customers cannot opt out of having installed on their smart phones, records all keystrokes, including keys pressed, apps opened, messages received, and media and location statistics, as well as information on battery life on a supposedly secure session, according to the complaint.”

The software, which doesn’t show up on the app menu of smart phones, was exposed by Trevor Eckhart who uploaded a video demonstrating Carrier IQ’s application logging keystrokes from text messages, the phone’s dial pad, and even encrypted websites:

David Straite, one of the attorneys leading the action, noted in the press release that “this latest revelation of corporate America’s brazen disregard for the digital privacy rights of its customers is yet another example of the escalating erosion of liberty in this country. We are hopeful that the courts will allow ordinary customers the opportunity to remedy this outrageous breach.”

Steve Grygiel, co-counsel for the proposed class, agreed: “anyone who cares at all about their personal privacy, or the broader constitutional right to privacy, ought to care and care a great deal about this case.”

Carrier IQ’s website touts its “proven ability to process data submitted by millions of phones with outstanding integrity and security” claims the IQRD device in question can “measure performance and user experience with no visible impact to your customers.”

These lawsuits followed a letter sent to Carrier IQ on November 30th by the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary who said that “these actions may violate federal privacy laws,” which they added, “is potentially a very serious matter.”

Carrier IQ has released a statement (PDF) denying that their software, which comes embedded by device manufacturers prior to shipment, is spying; “While we look at many aspects of a device’s performance, we are counting and summarizing performance, not recording keystrokes or providing tracking tools.”

Unfortunately for them, the YouTube video above seems to prove their statement wrong. They also claim that they do not collect and store the information directly, that it’s done exclusively for their customers like AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint — who they claim “have stringent policies and obligations on data collection and retention.”

Although service providers may not sell this data to other private companies, it’s been proven that it is routinely handed over to the government without a warrant, and without consent or knowledge of smart phone users.  EFF exposed proof that AT&T “makes copies of all emails web browsing and other Internet traffic to and from AT&T customers and provides those copies to the NSA.” There are already several lawsuits against telecommunications companies involving illegal government data collection and spying.

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