"Cyber-intel Firms Pitch Governments on Spy Tools to Trace Coronavirus"
From Joe Schectman, Christopher Bing, and Jack Stubbs' 4-28-20 Reuters article entitled "Cyber-intel Firms Pitch Governments on Spy Tools to Trace Coronavirus":
When law enforcement agencies want to gather evidence locked inside an iPhone, they often turn to hacking software from the Israeli firm Cellebrite. By manually plugging the software into a suspect’s phone, police can break in and determine where the person has gone and whom he or she has met.
Now, as governments fight the spread of COVID-19, Cellebrite is pitching the same capability to help authorities learn who a coronavirus sufferer may have infected. When someone tests positive, authorities can siphon up the patient’s location data and contacts, making it easy to “quarantine the right people,” according to a Cellebrite email pitch to the Delhi police force this month.
This would usually be done with consent, the email said. But in legally justified cases, such as when a patient violates a law against public gatherings, police could use the tools to break into a confiscated device, Cellebrite advised. “We do not need the phone passcode to collect the data,” the salesman wrote to a senior officer in an April 22 email reviewed by Reuters.
A Cellebrite spokeswoman said the salesman was offering the same tools the company has long sold to help police enforce the law. The company is also offering a version of its product line for use by healthcare workers to trace the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19, but the tools can only be used with patient consent and can’t hack phones, she said.
Cellebrite’s marketing overtures are part of a wave of efforts by at least eight surveillance and cyber-intelligence companies attempting to sell repurposed spy and law enforcement tools to track the virus and enforce quarantines, according to interviews with executives and non-public company promotional materials reviewed by Reuters.
The executives declined to specify which countries have purchased their surveillance products, citing confidentiality agreements with governments. But executives at four of the companies said they are piloting or in the process of installing products to counter coronavirus in more than a dozen countries in Latin America, Europe and Asia. A Delhi police spokesman said the force wasn’t using Cellebrite for coronavirus containment. Reuters is not aware of any purchases by the U.S. government.