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FBI warns that any mobile app developed in Russia could be "potential counterintelligence threat"

Lawmakers call for investigation of FaceApp
Lawmakers call for investigation of FaceApp 05:55

The FBI views any app developed in Russia to be a "potential counterintelligence threat," the agency warned Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer late last month.

The FBI informed Schumer, a New York Democrat, of its concerns regarding products made in Russia after he warned of the possible national security and privacy risks raised by FaceApp, a photo-editing application that exploded in popularity this summer.

"The FBI considers any mobile application or similar product developed in Russia, such as FaceApp, to be a potential counterintelligence threat, based on the data the product collects, its privacy and terms of use policies, and the legal mechanisms available to the government of Russia that permits access to data within Russia's borders," Jill Tyson, assistant director of the FBI's Office of Congressional Affairs, told Schumer in a letter dated November 25.

Schumer urged the FBI and Federal Trade Commission in July to examine the possible risks posed by FaceApp, which counted celebrities like Carrie Underwood, the Jonas Brothers, and Drake among its users.

"It would be deeply troubling if the sensitive personal information of U.S. citizens was provided to a hostile foreign power actively engaged in cyber hostilities against the United States," Schumer wrote in a letter to FBI Director Chris Wray and FTC chair Joseph Simons.

In response to Schumer's letter, Tyson noted that while FaceApp loads user photos to cloud servers hosted in the United States, Singapore, Ireland, and Australia, Russia's intelligence services can "remotely access all communications and servers on Russian networks without making a request to [Internet service providers]."

While FaceApp maintains it removes most photos from its servers within 48 hours, Tyson noted Russia's intelligence services boast "robust cyber exploitation capabilities."

FaceApp is owned by Wireless Lab, based in St. Petersburg, Russia. As privacy concerns surrounding the app mounted several months ago, the Democratic National Committee warned 2020 Democratic presidential campaigns against using the smartphone app.

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