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RATs are widely used in a variety of contexts, some benign, others not. It’s hard to know how many RATs are out there because of their covert nature.Recent reports confirm hundreds of thousands of computers infected in 2014 by only a single type of RAT, with the actual number of infections across years and technology far, far higher.The federal government should clarify the definition of “interception” under Title I of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) and reconsider the damages requirement for private claims in the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) in light of the often non-economic nature of privacy harms.A victim’s suffering is often not financial but emotional.As it currently stands, a ratting plaintiff must show damages of over ,000 to be able to use the act's civil provisions.But even great privacy harms do not necessarily translate to dollars—what is the price of having your sex life mocked by strangers in your living room? —so the act ends up unable to protect many who might need it.There's a real threat of being watched and recorded where you live, and without your knowledge or consent.
Courts, or the legislature, should abandon or retool the "in-flight" metaphor and understand snatched webcam photos as interceptions for the purposes of the statute.
A leading case illustrating the problems with the “in-flight” ECPA approach is , still-pending federal litigation over RAT spying conducted by rent-to-own computer stores franchised by Aaron’s, Inc.
At issue are privacy harms suffered by Colorado residents Crystal and Brian Byrd at the hands of a RAT called PC Rental Agent.
The laptop, it turned out, had been stolen before she bought it, and it came equipped with a Remote Access Tool, or RAT.
RATs are software that allow a third party to spy on a computer user from afar, whether rifling through messages and browsing activity, photographing the computer screen, or in many cases hijacking the webcam and taking photographs of whomever is on the other side.