ICE, IRS Explored Using Hacking Tools, New Documents Show


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Federal agencies including Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) are at least exploring the use of, if not actively deploying, hacking tools in criminal investigations, according to a newly released cache of documents shared with Motherboard.

The documents, which stem from a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit between activist group Privacy International and various government agencies, are heavily redacted, but draw the contours of how other federal law enforcement agencies beyond the FBI and DEA are interested in hacking criminal suspects.

“The documents show a growing perception among agencies that government hacking is not just acceptable, but an efficient and desirable solution for law enforcement activities. The fact that we’ve seen interest in acquiring hacking capabilities by organisations such as the U.S. Secret Service, the Drug Enforcement Agency, and even the Internal Revenue Service, reveals that there is a broader range of circumstances for which hacking is likely to be used,” Laura Lazaro Cabrera, a legal officer from Privacy International, told Motherboard in an emailed statement.

Do you produce NITs for the government? Do you deploy NITs or know anything else about them? We’d love to hear from you. Using a non-work phone or computer, you can contact Joseph Cox securely on Signal on +44 20 8133 5190, Wickr on josephcox, OTR chat on [email protected], or email [email protected].

Some parts of the Department of Justice, including the FBI, use the term network investigative techniques (NITs) to broadly refer to hacking tools that agencies may use in cases. The FBI has deployed NITs against child abusers, people making bomb threats, and cybercriminals. Often they consist of Word documents or other files that are designed to communicate to an FBI controlled server once opened by a target, revealing their real IP address, particularly if they are using the Tor anonymity network to hide their location. Motherboard previously reported how other NITs deployed by the FBI include exploits targeting the Tails operating system and Tor Browser.

As Motherboard recently revealed, the U.S….