Forbes Associate Editor Thomas Brewster disclosed the DEA's use of AirTags in a March 2023 piece, outlining one such case in May 2022. He recounted that Customs and Border Protection agents intercepted two packages from Shanghai, China. One package contained a pill press used to compress powders into tablets, while the other contained some pill dyes.
"Believing that they were destined for an illegal narcotics manufacturer, the DEA was called in. Investigators inspected the devices, but rather than cancel the shipment or pay a visit to the intended recipient, they tried something they'd never been known to try before. They hid an Apple AirTag inside the pill press so they could track its movements."
Brewster divulged that based on court records, the intended recipient of the pill press was not charged in federal court. However, the Department of Justice said the recipient was charged by the state. (Related: DEA using 'terrorism' surveillance to entrap Americans.)
In an April 3 piece for TechDirt, journalist Tim Cushing questioned the DEA's use of AirTags in this instance.
"Maybe the AirTag was smaller than the DEA's other options. Maybe the agents felt the discovery of an AirTag might lead the target to suspect something other than law enforcement surveillance. [The agency] had to be aware Apple had added features meant to deter exactly this sort of tracking, but chose to go with the AirTag anyway," he wrote.
"Whatever the case is, it appears this test run … worked, at least to some extent. Tracking is tracking, and Apple may have managed to produce a better version of whatever the DEA [has] relied on for years."
The quarter-sized AirTags were originally made to keep track of keys and other objects that people commonly lose. However, these devices have been used for nefarious purposes – whether it's random individuals stalking other people without their consent or agencies such as the DEA tracking the packages of Americans.
In one such case, two women sued Apple after their former partners allegedly made use of the devices to secretly track their movements and whereabouts. In a federal lawsuit, they accused the tech giant of negligently releasing a dangerous device, minimizing concerns about threats surrounding AirTags and misrepresenting the safety of the product by calling them "stalker-proof."
Plaintiff and Texas resident Lauren Hughes stated in the lawsuit that an ex-boyfriend stalked her using the AirTags after their three-month-long relationship ended. Despite relocating to a hotel after leaving her former partner, Hughes received a notification that an unknown AirTag had been tracking her. She later discovered that her ex-boyfriend had attached a disguised AirTag to one of her car's tires.
"Jane Doe," the second plaintiff, meanwhile, said her former spouse used an AirTag in their child's backpack to follow her movements. While she managed to disable the first device, another one showed up.
The lawsuit ultimately pointed out that AirTags have "revolutionized the scope, breadth and ease of location-based stalking. With a price point of just $29, it has become the weapon of choice of stalkers and abusers.
Cushing ended his TechDirt piece: "If it can be used or misused by people, it can [also] be used [or] misused by the government. If stalkers have a new toy, rest assured the government has already considered the advantages – and maybe even the constitutional implications – of deploying it to engage in its own form of stalking. It's whatever the government-involved version of 'buyer beware' is."
Visit Surveillance.news for more stories about the use of AirTags to track people illegally.
Watch Mississippi mother Amber Norsworthy recount how a stalker managed to track her using an AirTag secretly placed in her car.
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