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Carrier IQ, Carriers, Manufacturers Hit With Wiretap Lawsuits

U.S. and European officials also demand answers about who's using Carrier IQ's smartphone monitoring software and exactly which types of information they're tracking.

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At least three lawsuits are now targeting smartphone monitoring software vendor Carrier IQ, as well as handset manufacturers and carriers--including Apple--who install or use the software to monitor devices.

One suit, filed Friday in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois by Erin Janek, accused Carrier IQ and HTC of surreptitiously intercepting, recording, and collecting private data. The lawsuit seeks class action status. Janek, a Sprint customer with an HTC handset that runs Android, "used her phone to electronically send over her cellphone network various types of private data," according to the complaint. "She did not know that defendants were surreptitiously monitoring and collecting this data, nor did she give them permission to do so."

A second lawsuit was also filed Friday on behalf of four people, by a group of three law firms--Sianni & Straite; Eichen Crutchlow Zaslow & McElroy; and Keefe Bartels--in federal court in Wilmington, Del. The class-action complaint "asserts that three cellphone providers (T-Mobile, Sprint, and AT&T) and four manufacturers of cellphones (HTC, Motorola, Apple, and Samsung) violated the Federal Wiretap Act, the Stored Electronic Communications Act, and the Federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act," according to a statement released by Sianni & Straite.

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The complaint also accused Carrier IQ of "surreptitiously logging and transmitting extraordinarily sensitive information from consumers' phones to the mobile phone carriers, without the knowledge or consent of the users, in violation of federal privacy laws."

Via email, AT&T spokesman Mark Siegel said that the carrier had no comment on the lawsuit, but emphasized how it uses Carrier IQ's software. "In line with our privacy policy, we solely use CIQ software data to improve wireless network and service performance," he said. The other companies named in the suit were not available for immediate comment.

Meanwhile, a third lawsuit, filed Friday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California on behalf of four smartphone owners, accused Carrier IQ, HTC, and Samsung of violating the Federal Wiretap Act, as well as California's Unfair Business Practice Act. "The Federal Wiretap Act prohibits the unauthorized interception or illegal use of electronic communications," according to a statement released by Hagens Berman, the Seattle-based law firm that filed the lawsuit.

That lawsuit complaint--as with the one filed in Delaware--referenced a video released last week by security researcher Trevor Eckhart, which showed Carrier IQ's monitoring software in operation. "Mr. Eckhart's video shows CIQ software intercepting incoming text messages, and it also shows that the software captures dialed numbers and sensitive information sent through protected websites," said attorney Steve W. Berman, who's representing the smartphone owners in the suit filed in California, in a statement. The lawsuit also accused Carrier IQ's software of recording keystrokes, message content, and possibly also information that gets sent via HTTPS.

But does Eckhart's video show the Carrier IQ software intercepting messages and information? As Eckhart has noted, it's unclear exactly what data the software might be logging, as well as what it might then be transmitting back to Carrier IQ's backend servers.

Even so, University of Colorado law and telecommunications scholar Paul Ohm, a former federal prosecutor, last week told Wired that the manner in which the software is used "verges on wiretapping." Furthermore, while few customers would have even known that it existed, how long have law enforcement agencies had access to the collected data? "There's a lot of really sensitive stuff that you never ever realized that anybody was saving," he said. "One really likely scenario, the FBI, once they get wind of this, it's going to give them a trove of information."

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