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FAQ: Behind the carrier IQ rookit controversy

Jaikumar Vijayan | Dec. 2, 2011
The recent disclosure that top mobile phone providers are using software from Carrier IQ that critics say can gather and track all sorts of personal data from a user's smartphone has sparked a firestorm of controversy.

Is use of the Carrier IQ software on mobile phones legal?

You can safely bet that's a question a lot of lawyers are studying the legality of the software at this moment. In a letter addressed to Larry Lenhart, president and CEO of Carrier IQ today, U.S. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn) said that use of the software may violate the U.S. Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

Meanwhile, the Electronic Privacy Information Center today briefly noted that the use of Carrier IQ's software to log data may constitute an "unlawful intercept" of data under the ECPA. In comments made to Forbes , former Justice Department prosecutor Paul Ohm said that the use of the software could be grounds for class action lawsuits based on federal wiretapping laws.

How has Carrier IQ responded to the complaints?

When Eckhart first published the report, the company threatened to sue him for breach of copyright. (Eckhart used publicly available training materials from Carrier IQ's site for his research. He later posted copies of those training materials on mirror sites). The company also asked him to withdraw his findings, say they were incorrect, and apologize to the company. After the Electronic Frontier Foundation intervened on Eckhart's behalf, Carrier IQ withdrew its threat and its CEO personally apologized to the researcher.

In a statement, Carrier IQ maintained that its software does not record keystroke, does not support user tracking and does not inspect data communications, according to a story in Forbes. The Carrier IQ site was down this afternoon.


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