On Tuesday, the Intercept published a report explaining in detail how it is legal for law enforcement to hack into suspect's devices as long as they have a warrant to do so, as well as how they do it.
While the FBI doesn’t really like to talk about it, they also do not deny using various hacking tactics including installing viruses, Trojan horses, and other forms of
malicious code onto suspects’ devices, the Intercept reported.
While known cases of hacking are scarce, the ones that have been made public included phishing and physical tampering.
In 2001, FBI agents installed a keystroke recorder onto the son of infamous “Little Nicky,” Nicodemo Scarfo Jr.’s computer while investigating the American Mafia.
The FBI had searched his office on a warrant, and discovered an encrypted folder on his desktop, so they installed the logger to get his passkey. They later found out that it was his prison identification number.
In 2007, a high school student who was making bomb threats was found after FBI agents sent a fake news article containing identity-revealing malware to his Myspace account.
In 2013, during a child pornography investigation the FBI installed malware on a bunch of seized web servers. The code revealed identifying information of popular Tor sites which hosted child pornography.
The FBI has even debated amongst themselves whether or not they actually need warrants to hack into someone’s devices.
In a paper called “Constitutional Malware,” Jonathan Mayer, a PhD candidate in computer science at Stanford University, studied declassified FBI documents and found that officials “theorized that the Fourth Amendment does not apply” when investigators “algorithmically constrain the information that they retrieve from a hacked device, ensuring they receive only data that is — in isolation — constitutionally unprotected.”
Ultimately however, many seem to agree that specific hacking, when done with a warrant, is ultimately for the best as it is too difficult and expensive to do on a large scale, and to all members of a population — unlike global wiretapping.