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U.S. Charges Pakistani Man With Conspiracy Over His Spyware App

A customer inspects the new iPhone.
Lintao Zhang
Getty Images
A customer inspects the new iPhone.

In what it is calling the first criminal case of its kind, the Justice Department said it had charged a Pakistani man with conspiracy over the sale and advertising of a smart phone app that could monitor calls, texts, videos, location and other communication of an unsuspecting user.

Hammad Akbar, 31, of Lahore, Pakistan, is the owner of the company that sells an app called StealthGenie.

"Selling spyware is not just reprehensible, it's a crime," Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell said in a statement. "Apps like StealthGenie are expressly designed for use by stalkers and domestic abusers who want to know every detail of a victim's personal life — all without the victim's knowledge. The Criminal Division is committed to cracking down on those who seek to profit from technology designed and used to commit brazen invasions of individual privacy."

The Washington Post reports that activists against domestic violence have urged law enforcement officials to take action against apps like these. The Post adds that Akbar was arrested in Los Angeles on Saturday:

"A grand jury in the Eastern District of Virginia in August indicted Akbar for several alleged crimes, including conspiracy, sale of a surreptitious interception device and advertising a surreptitious interception device. That indictment was unsealed Monday afternoon. Efforts to reach Akbar's attorney, based in Los Angeles, were not successful."

In its indictment, the government says that a person needs "physical control" of a phone in order to install the software. But once it is on there, a person could access pretty much anything remotely.

Arstechnica reports that the company marketed StealthGenie both as a way for parents to track their children and "those suspecting a spouse or romantic partner of infidelity."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.