Akbar spent 10 days in jail also.
By The American Bazaar Staff
WASHINGTON, DC: A Pakistani entrepreneur, who is a citizen of Denmark, Hammad Akbar, was fined $500,000 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia last week for making and selling a smartphone product which prosecutors termed as a stalker app.
The app was marketed to help catch cheating lovers by listening in on phone calls and tracking locations, and might spur more legal action against producers of so-called stalker apps, reported The Washington Post.
Akbar, 31, of Lahore, Pakistan, admitted in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia that he broke the law, albeit unknowingly, in advertising and selling the StealthGenie app, which allowed users to surreptitiously monitor the activities of those whose phones had the program installed. The case against Akbar – the chief executive of the company that made StealthGenie – was the first of its kind, but it is notable because the app is hardly the only smartphone surveillance technology on the market.
Akbar, a software engineer and citizen of Denmark, said in court that he did not know he was violating U.S. law in selling the app and that he was “extremely sorry.” He pleaded guilty to selling and advertising an interception device, said the Post report.
“Had I known I was breaking the law, I would not have done it,” Akbar said.
Advocates for victims of domestic violence have long urged authorities to crack down on such apps – which they say are used frequently by those who abuse their spouses. The November 25 plea agreement and heavy fine send the message that those who peddle the technology can be successfully prosecuted.
Though U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema gave Akbar a prison sentence of only time served – he spent 10 days in jail after his arrest before he was able to post bond – federal prosecutors and Brinkema said others, including lawyers, should take note of the case.
“Selling spyware is not just reprehensible, it’s a crime,” said Assistant Attorney General Caldwell, according to a press release by the Justice Department. “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 StealthGenie spyware could intercept communications to and from mobile phones, including Apple’s iPhone, Google’s Android, and Blackberry Limited’s Blackberry. StealthGenie was undetectable by most users and was advertised and sold online as being untraceable.
Akbar was arrested in Los Angeles on September 27th. StealthGenie was hosted at a data center in Ashburn, Virginia. On September 26, a federal judge in the Eastern District of Virginia issued a temporary restraining order authorizing the FBI to temporarily disable the website hosting StealthGenie.
StealthGenie’s capabilities included the following: it recorded all incoming/outgoing voice calls; it intercepted calls on the phone to be monitored while they take place; it allowed the purchaser to call the phone and activate it at any time to monitor all surrounding conversations within a 15-foot radius; and it allowed the purchaser to monitor the user’s incoming and outgoing e-mail messages and SMS messages, incoming voice-mail messages, address book, calendar, photographs, and videos. All of these functions were enabled without the knowledge of the user of the phone.
Akbar and his co-conspirators programmed StealthGenie to synchronize communications intercepted by the app with the customer’s account so that the customer could review intercepted communications almost immediately from any computer with access to the Internet. To install the app, a purchaser needed to obtain physical control over the phone to be monitored for only a few minutes. The purchaser could then review communications intercepted from the monitored phone without ever again having physical control over the phone. Akbar and others alleged designed SteathGenie to be undetectable to users of the phone.
According to allegations in the indictment, the business plan for the development, sale and advertisement of StealthGenie stated that the target population for the marketing of the app was “[s]pousal cheat: Husband/Wife of (sic) boyfriend/girlfriend suspecting their other half of cheating or any other suspicious behaviour or if they just want to monitor them.”
Language and testimonials on the StealthGenie website focused significantly on potential purchasers who did not have any ownership interest in the mobile phone to be monitored, including those suspecting a spouse or romantic partner of infidelity. The indictment alleges that Akbar and his co-conspirators fabricated the testimonials.