The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency put an AirTag into an item that was suspected to be on its way to illegal drug dealers. The hope was that Apple’s item tracker would enable DEA agents to discover the location of the criminals.
This may be the first time this has happened, and it also may be the last. We don’t know how useful the AirTag was in the investigation, but Apple deliberately makes the device very hard to use for surveillance of any type.
AirTag becomes a tiny DEA agent
AirTag is a small gadget that uses wireless tech to make it findable. Attach it to your keys or luggage and it’ll help you locate them if they go missing. That’s all AirTag is supposed to be used for, but people keep trying to expand the possibilities.
In May 2022, border agents found a pill press and pill dyes being shipped in the United States and, suspecting they were going to an illegal drug dealer, notified the DEA, according to Forbes. That agency then decided to the hide an AirTag in the pill press then send it to its destination.
A search warrant obtained by Forbes said the DEA agents hoped “precise location information for the [pill press] will allow investigators to obtain evidence about where such individuals store drugs and/or drug proceeds, where they obtain controlled substances, and where else they distribute them.”
Apple tries to prevent surveillance
There are advantages to an AirTag over a GPS tracker, a more typical law enforcement tool for electronically locating suspects. Apple’s device is smaller, and runs for months on a single battery.
On the other hand, Apple tries to prevent AirTag from being used in exactly this way. The company isn’t looking out for drug dealers, but is hoping to prevent the device from being a stalkers’ tool.
If any of the drug dealers who received the pill maker uses an iPhone, they would have soon received a notification that an AirTag was following them. And an AirTag starts playing an audible alarm if it’s moved after it’s been away from its owner for longer than 24 hours.
Both of these make Apple’s tracker a poor choice as a surveillance tool, even with the best of intentions.