Should the FBI be permitted to impersonate the news media in order to nab criminals?
That’s the question being raised today after an analyst with the American Civil Liberties Union uncovered documents showing that the FBI created a fake online news story in 2007 under the guise of The Seattle Times, hoping the story would entice a teen bomb-threat suspect to click on the link, and as a result implant spyware, known as CIPAV software, on his computer.
The tactic worked when the story appeared in the suspect’s MySpace feed, leading to the arrest of a 15-year-old who had been threatening to blow up a high school near Olympia.
The only problem: The Seattle Times had no idea that the FBI created the fake URL, or that its brand was being used to implant spyware on the suspect’s computer in a criminal investigation.
Washington state’s largest newspaper only found out about the practice today after it was disclosed in a lengthy document and discovered by the ACLU’s Christopher Soghoian, who called the practice “outrageous.”
The Seattle Times is not too happy about the FBI’s tactics, with editor Kathy Best telling The Stranger that they are “outraged that the FBI misappropriated the name of The Seattle Times to secretly install spyware on the computer of a crime suspect.”
“Not only does that cross the line, it erases it,” Best said.
“Our reputation—and our ability to do our job as a government watchdog—is based on trust. And nothing is more fundamental to that trust than our independence from law enforcement, from government, from corporations and from all other special interests. The FBI’s actions, taken without our knowledge, traded on our reputation and put it at peril,” Best continued.
The FBI, for its part, is standing by the practice.
“Every effort we made in this investigation had the goal of preventing a tragic event like what happened at Marysville and Seattle Pacific University,” the FBI’s Frank Montoya Jr. told The Seattle Times. “We identified a specific subject of an investigation and used a technique that we deemed would be effective in preventing a possible act of violence in a school setting.”
That the FBI impersonated a newspaper’s website to deliver malware to a target is outrageous. Over the top crazy.
— Christopher Soghoian (@csoghoian) October 27, 2014