Who Is

watching out for you?

In today's world you need to understand a few more things...

Who Is

knocking on your virtual front door?

It could be someone down the block or from the Bloc

Is your theft recovery software breaking the law?

14-Aug-2012 - When Brigadoon Software launched PC Phone Home 

13 years ago there were only two companies doing theft tracking and recovery.

“We were the first to use the Internet to track your computer – in 1999 we advertised the first Internet based tracking number,” said Tim Albright, VP Brigadoon Software. “They were still using a dial-up number.”

In the ensuing time many new tracking products have been marketed. Which concerns the Brigadoon staff, who are ex law enforcement, predominately retired NYPD investigators.

“All of these are in violation of eavesdropping or wiretapping laws,” Albright said. “It’s illegal to own, possess, or use any device designed for the surreptitious tracking of electronic communications. When you take screen shots of what the person is doing... you’re eavesdropping. When sending copies of what they’re typing that’s illegal copying of electronic communication.”

In 2010 the Lower Marion PA school system installed computer tracking systems from a rival firm that allowed the school principal and IT staff to break into computers via video, observe what students were doing on the Internet, and what they were typing.

One student who was smoking a joint in front of his computer was suspended the next day. His incensed parents went after the school board, which paid $600,000 to its students for invasion of privacy.

“We are skilled at everything you can possibly do... sure we can activate the camera, but reading the NY and federal laws we see you can’t do that. Surreptitiously recording someone is illegal.”  

The issue of online privacy and illegal surveillance surfaced hard for another laptop tracing firm.

Susan Clements-Jeffrey bought a laptop from a Craigslist seller. The laptop was stolen, and she was using it to have long distance online sex with her boyfriend.
Alerted by software, the recovery agent – not Brigadoon – gave the local Ohio police copies of keystrokes and screen shots, and attempted to lock her up for possession of the stolen computer. She sued, and the federal judge ruled she had every expectation of privacy.

Since the software firm is not a law enforcement agency, and since it violated federal wiretapping laws, was forced settled out of court with Clement-Jeffrey.

Many of these firms are unfamiliar with Canadian law. Albright has had police officers tell him other laptop tracing software is useless, because there is no recovery support.

“We’ve done many recoveries with the RCMP and you have to establish probable cause,” he said. “That’s an event that would cause a reasonable person to believe an event has occurred. If I tell a judge that a computer has called in, that’s not enough probable cause. When you lose your car you give the detective in the compilation of the case certain identifying aspects prior to it being reported stolen, and after it has been stolen.”

The legal structure has to be in place before an officer will go out and recover your stolen computing device. Brigadoon theft tracking and recovery products can pinpoint the original IP address.  

When you report a stolen device Brigadoon provides you with a computer loss data form. It’s a short questionnaire – who, what, when, how, why. The company provides that information to a detective and flags your device in its database.

“So I look it up and see you installed our software in May 2005 and since then it has called into our system 8,723 times,” said Albright. “After being stolen it calls into the system from a new IP address.”

In those two messages – one prior and one after theft – the software notes internal MAC Address, device serial number, and if it has a hard drive, that serial number.  

“Then I take the first of every message up to the point the machine was stolen and after it’s stolen, and you can clearly see it is the same computer that has been stolen. That’s all you need to make a positive identification. In the search warrant application affidavit we state how our software works. We’ve never had one denied anywhere in the world.”

Anybody can put on a GPS enabled and show where it is... which is what most recovery software does.  

“You can’t do anything with that information yourself – there’s no case there,” Albright said. “So what good is it to the average layman, who knocks on the door and destroys the legal case for recovery? And 99% of the consumer market doesn’t understand what’s going on with this, and it’s a shame.”

Other software tracking and recovery products are putting their customers in jeopardy by providing them with tools for intercepting electronic communications without authorization – intercepting keystrokes, capturing screen shots, or recording any information.

“The software captures and sends certain identifying information to us,” said Albright. “It doesn’t have what we and at least one federal judge believe are illegal. We don’t need snake oil or bells and whistles. Originating IP address confirmation with WiFi triangulation is all you need. We have a stripped down Army Jeep – we may not have a Ferrari... we plod along within in a legal framework. That’s not going to get our clients in trouble”