Several smartphone monitoring and data mining companies, including the iPhone hacking company Cellebrite, present their products to governments as an alternative method of tracking COVID-19 sp.
Cellebrite’s forensic equipment would be able to extract data from a range of locked iPhones.
As tech giants and device makers like Apple and Google focus on privacy-friendly methods of tracking coronavirus sp, companies that produce spyware or surveillance software are looking for new ways. to market their products during the crisis.
Cellebrite, a company famous for producing iPhone hacking tools, is actively presenting these tools to authorities following COVID-19 sp, according to a report from Reuters on Tuesday.
An e-mail that Cellebrite sent to Indian police suggested that law enforcement could use company tools to collect location and contact informationon from a phone to “put quarantine the right people. “
Although this normally happens with the consent of a user, Cellebrite said that there are legally justified cases in which the police could use their tools to enter an acquired device – as if an iPhone is confiscated when someone violates public assembly orders. “We don’t need the phone password to collect the data,” said Cellebrite spokesperson in the introductory email.
Cellebrite’s locations are just part of a new wave of private intelligence and surveillance companies trying to reuse and sell their tools to law enforcement to track the virus and enforce residence orders in home, according to Reuters.
At least eight of these companies present their tools to law enforcement agencies around the world. Although none of them detailed the countries that bought their products, four said they pilot or provide tools to fight coronaviruses in at least a dozen countries in Europe, Asia and Latin America.
The Reuters report comes in the middle of a larger conversation at the intersection of privacy and public health.
In April, Apple and Google announced a new joint initiative to use Bluetooth signals as a way to track COVID-19 sp without compromising privacy or collecting location data.
While some privacy advocates are concerned about Bluetooth’s security limitations, others have called short-range contact tracking “a big improvement” over the massive collection of GPS data and cellular sites.
But the Apple and Google solution is strictly opt-in, which raises questions about whether it could see the 60% adoption rate required for it to be effective. Apple and Google also require public health agencies to store contact data in a decentralized manner.
Several countries have either disagreed with the tech giants on this requirement, or have flatly refused to use the technology.
Massive and compulsory data collection is an alternative considered. Israel, for example, is reportedly testing a mass surveillance system developed by one of the cyber-intelligence companies, NSO Group, despite valid concerns about the ability of mass surveillance to offer sufficiently accurate data to limit the sp of the coronavirus.
The Apple and Google system is expected to launch early on April 28, but how or when public health agencies will deploy it remains to be seen. In the meantime, it seems that some countries may have access to built in y but less private means to monitor sp of COVID-19.