FBI turns down request for info. on Carrier IQ

December 13, 2011

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has denied a request regarding Carrier IQ, a piece of software found on smartphones and designed to send information on handsets to carriers. The request, filed by reporter Michael Morisy of Muckrock News under the Freedom of Information Act, asked for “manuals, documents of other written guidance used to access or analyze data” gathered by any Carrier IQ program.

In denying the request, the FBI said it had information but could not disclose it because it is considered “law enforcement records.” In other words, they’re vital to some kind of ongoing investigation.

That seems to confirm fears about the program being used as spyware by the government. But before you put on your tinfoil hat, you should note— as Morisy does — that this could also mean that the FBI is investigating Carrier IQ. It’s not clear from the bureau’s language at this time, and Morisy has said he will file an appeal in an effort to obtain more information.

For its part, the company has released a report outlining what it “does and does not do,” maintaining that it does not have mechanisms to capture keystrokes or the content of messages. The report shows that Carrier IQ collects information about carrier networks, smartphone actions such as sending and receiving text messages and other multimedia messages, data transmission speeds and battery life.

Carrier IQ came into the spotlight earlier this month, after security researcher Trevor Eckhart posted evidence that the program records information about app activity and battery life and appeared to note when users press any key on the phone and records text messages. Sprint, T-Mobile and AT&T have all said that they use the software in line with their own privacy policies.

The backlash following Eckhart’s research has prompted several lawsuits against the company, mobile carriers and handset makers.

Related stories:

Google chairman calls Carrier IQ a ‘keylogger’

Dear Carrier IQ: If you want to track me, you need to ask me first

What is Carrier IQ?

Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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