Privacy SOS

Spy Tech: FBI seeks covert audio recorder for smartphones

The FBI is seeking bids for a smartphone app to enable agents to covertly record audio, store the data locally, automatically send the data to FBI headquarters, livestream recordings to other FBI agents, and display the GPS location of the agent recording on a map. Posted July 29, 2016, the advertisement for bids also asks that the app enable overt recordings of audio and video, to enable agents to document interviews. 

The FBI’s “Audio Recorder Technical Requirements” appendix describes two possible scenarios in which FBI agents would use the app. The first is covert:

For scenario number one, the app would be preloaded onto the phone and run covertly in the background. When the app is running, a person controlling the scenario will be able to remotely enable recording, effectively turning the phone into a local microphone/recorder. The recording will be stored on the phone and simultaneously the live audio will be sent (via the cellular network) to a Government owned server located in Quantico, Virginia. The storage and transfer of data will happen automatically with no user action required.

Ultimately, the FBI says, it wants the app to enable covert video recording, too.

The system will also enable agents “to send the audio, video, and/or GPS data without storing it on the phone or server.” Most importantly, “while in live audio mode, the phone being used as a covert recorder shall have a means to hide the fact that it is recording and streaming audio. The vendor can implement this as a fake app, or a hidden app that requires a special input (like a pattern of taps or swipes) to bring it into view, or some other method, at its discretion.”

Things are not always what they seem.

© 2018 ACLU of Massachusetts.