The Drug Enforcement Administration has been buying spyware produced by the controversial Italian surveillance tech company Hacking Team since 2012, Motherboard has learned.
The software, known as Remote Control System or “RCS,” is capable of intercepting phone calls, texts, and social media messages, and can surreptitiously turn on a user’s webcam and microphone as well as collect passwords.
The DEA originally placed an order for the software in August of 2012, according to both public records and sources with knowledge of the deal.
The contract, which has not been previously revealed, shows that the FBI is not the only US government agency engaged in hacking tactics, but that the DEA has also been purchasing off-the-shelf malware that could be used to spy on suspected criminals.
This revelation comes just a week after USA Today uncovered a secret program with which the DEA collected the phone records of millions of Americans for more than 20 years, a program that pre-dated and inspired the NSA’s own bulk telephone collection program, suggesting that the drug agency is sort of a pioneer in the use of surveillance.
Surveillance tech experts say the DEA’s relation with Hacking Team is further proof that methods and tools once only reserved for the military, intelligence agencies and even cybercriminals—such as drones and StingRays—are becoming commonplace in law enforcement as well.