Court limits in-car FBI spying

Thu Nov 20 @ 22:06 (Reads: 16) Source: Security Focus

An appeals court this week put the brakes on an FBI surveillance technique that turns an automobile driver’s on-board vehicle navigation system into a covert eavesdropping device, after finding that the spying effectively disables the system’s emergency and roadside assistance features. The case arose from a 2001 FBI surveillance operation in Las Vegas, in which agents obtained a court order compelling a telematics company to secretly activate the stolen vehicle recovery feature in a customer’s car. The feature, designed to listen-in on car thieves as they cruise around in a stolen auto, turns on a dashboard microphone and pipes conversations out over a cell phone connection — normally to the company’s response center, but in this case to an FBI listening post. After initially complying for 30 days, the company asked a federal judge to block the order. It lost, and filed the appeal with 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals while complying with the order. The proceeding were handled in strict secrecy, and the text of the final ruling omits the name of the company. Geri Lama, a spokesperson for General Motors subsidiary OnStar, says it wasn’t them.