Cybercrime reporter Thomas Brewster has written a fascinating exposé of the activities of Mitre Corporation, which has taken on some eyebrow-raising projects for the US government.
Writing for Forbes, Brewster’s article reveals a $500,000 project undertaken by Mitre for the FBI which saw it attempt to capture biometric information – such as actual fingerprints – from photographs posted on social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
Former FBI science head Chris Piehota, described how the “image fingerprinting” technology could be used to examine the image of gang members who posted online, making gang signs with their hands.
“They’re also giving us access to their fingerprint patterns,” he adds. “[The FBI] can take your fingerprint characteristics from those images and they can build fingerprint files or fingerprint characteristics for individuals [for whom] we don’t have biographic information.” This could be useful for individuals violating immigration laws where the U.S. doesn’t have a record of their fingerprints in another database, adds Piehota. It could also be used to identify someone in a child exploitation video or, as in an investigation in the Welsh city of Swansea, catch drug dealers using tools like WhatsApp.
Another project saw Mitre tasked with the job of creating a tool that locate and hack into smartwatches, fitness trackers, and IoT devices.
The contract says the tech could be used either by law enforcement or border officials to help them “rapidly detect and exploit for evidentiary purposes IoT devices in a security or crime scene environment,” or for use at “physical security boundaries” to hack into devices “passing through or approaching the boundary.” Think of people crossing the U.S.-Mexico border and a surveillance tool that scans every device coming through, checking which ones are smartwatches or other IoT systems. When one is worn by a criminal suspect, it could quickly be drained of data and evidence of their activities gathered, from their text messages to their previous locations.
If the US Government and law enforcement have tools like this available to them, it could be good to know about it officially, and for there to be transparency regarding how they were being deployed, and oversight to ensure that civil liberties and privacy are not being put in peril.
Read more from the Forbes article here: “Inside America’s Secretive $2 Billion Research Hub Collecting Fingerprints From Facebook, Hacking Smartwatches And Fighting Covid-19”