It was announced Monday that the chief executive officer of a company in Pakistan was indicted with multiple charges in Virginia for selling a popular smartphone "stalker app."
Hammad Akbar, the CEO of a private company called InvoCode was arrested in Los Angles on Saturday for selling an app that is an invasion of privacy.
The app, StealthGenie, was marketed as a tool for catching cheating spouses by listening to their calls and tracking their locations. StealthGenie intercepts texts and emails from a target's phone, records conversations within a 15-foot radius, and monitors photographs and calendars.
The app broke the law by giving users the ability to monitor phone calls and other communications in real-time without a person's knowledge. Only law enforcement can typically use spyware legally.
The first prosecution of its kind, Akbar, 31, of Lahore, Pakistan was indicted in August in the East District of Virginia on charges of conspiracy and the selling and advertising of a surreptitious interception device, according to previously sealed documents.
StealthGenie charges users anywhere from $100 to $200 a year for its "Platinum" version, which allows them to track any movement made from their target through iPhone, Android and Blackberry devices.
"Selling spyware is not just reprehensible, it's a crime," says Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell, head of the Justice Department's Criminal Division.
Akabr's defense says that users of StealthGenie should be held responsible for any legal issues, not the maker of the app. The court filings show that in a 2011 email Akbar wrote, "When the customer buys the product, they assume all responsibility. We do not need to describe the legal issues."
The spyware is often advertised as a way to monitor small children or catch suspicious employees in action, but activists say those who abuse their partners and spouses also use the software. Domestic violence activists have urged federal officials to aggressively take action on the tech tools used for stalking.
"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," Caldwell says.
The indictment comes after the debate regarding the government's use of surveillance and privacy made waves.