Police identify 33,000 illegal cell phone monitoring during Bolsonaro government

By October 25, 2023

São Paulo, Brazil – The Federal Police has uncovered that a system used by the Brazilian Intelligence Agency (Abin), a federal government agency, conducted at least 33,000 illegal monitoring activities without any court authorization during the government of former President Jair Bolsonaro.

On October 20th, two employees responsible for the illegal use of the tool were arrested, with the Supreme Court issuing 25 search warrants as part of the investigation. The case centers on the misuse of the FirstMile system, an Israeli mobile device geolocation tool acquired by the Brazilian government in 2018.

According to investigations, 1,800 unauthorized accesses made by FirstMile were intended for spying on politicians, journalists, lawyers, Supreme Court judges, and Bolsonaro’s opponents. The list includes a man with the same name as Supreme Court Judge Alexandre de Moraes, which reinforces the suspicion that he was the target of the illegal scheme.

To avoid leaving traces, the employees responsible for the program, dubbed the “Abin tracking gang,” erased the vast majority of computer records. Nevertheless, the police managed to identify at least 33,000 instances of illegal monitoring activities carried out by Abin during Bolsonaro’s administration.

At the time, the agency’s director was Alexandre Ramagem, who has close ties to the Bolsonaro family and was elected as a deputy in 2022.

The FirstMile system is capable of tracking a person based on the location of devices using 2G, 3G and 4G networks. This can be done by simply inputting the phone number, allowing the system to display the cell phone’s most recent location on a map.

The software was developed by the Israeli company Cognyte (formerly Verint) and is based on telecommunications towers installed in many areas to capture data from each telephone device and provide the cell phone owner’s travel history.

Director’s removal after operation

On October 24, Abin removed its planning and management secretary, Paulo Maurício Fortunato Pinto, who is currently under investigation by the Federal Police. Additionally, two other directors were removed from their positions, although their names remain undisclosed, in accordance with the protections required by law for intelligence agents.

Abin issued a statement asserting that its General Inspectorate concluded an extraordinary review to ensure the lawful use of the system on February 23, 2023. Based on the findings of this internal investigation, an inquiry was initiated on March 21. According to Abin, FirstMile stopped being used in May 2021.

The agency also emphasized that all information collected during the internal investigation has been shared with authorities, including the Federal Police and the Supreme Court, and that they have cooperated with the investigations from the outset.