Privacy SOS

Lawyer representing police whistleblowers says department tried to install malware on his computer during discovery process

An Arkansas lawyer representing police whistleblowers has filed a motion for sanctions after discovering spyware on a hard drive government officials mailed to him. The hard drive supposedly contained discovery information related to police whisltblower litigation.

ABA Journal reports:

Lawyer Matthew Campbell of North Little Rock says he became suspicious when he received the hard drive by Federal Express in June 2014 from a lawyer for the Fort Smith Police Department, the Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette reports. Previous evidence in the police whistleblower case had been provided by email or a cloud-based Internet storage service, or had been shipped through the U.S. Postal Service.

“I thought ‘I’m not plugging that into my computer,’ ” Campbell told the Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette. “Something didn’t add up in the way they approached it, so I sent it to my software guy first.”

The technology expert found four Trojans on the hard drive. “These Trojans were designed to steal passwords, install malicious software, and give someone else command and control of the infected computer,” Campbell says in a brief supporting his motion for sanctions (PDF).

The security expert said in an affidavit that the Trojans were in a subfolder rather than the root directory, indicating they were “more likely placed in that folder intentionally with the goal of taking command of Mr. Campbell’s computer while also stealing passwords to his account.”

The attempt to install malware on Campbell's computer apparently came after a police computer expert from the department attended a law enforcement symposium on forensic evidence. According to Campbell's motion for sanctions, the "expert took classes on secure data deletion, whistleblower investigation and monitoring employee activity," but "did not take classes offered on e-discovery and preservation of evidence," ABA Journal writes.

Law enforcement agencies including the FBI routinely respond to FOIA and public records requests by sending documents in electronic form, whether by thumb drive, compact disc, or through a cloud service.

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.