The United States Drug Enforcement Agency in 2022 used an AirTag to track illegal drug-making paraphernalia shipped from China to an illegal narcotics maker in the United States. That information was pulled from a search warrant obtained by Forbes.
In May 2022, federal border agents intercepted two packages from China – containing a pill press and pill dyes – that they suspected the equipment was being sent to a drug dealer and contacted the DEA. The DEA then secreted an AirTag inside of the package to track its movements. As far as we know, this is the first time a U.S. federal agency used Apple’s item location-tracking device as a piece of surveillance technology.
While the search warrant doesn’t provide any details about why the DEA decided to use an AirTag in place of some other type of tracking device. However, the search warrant notes that “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.”
One possibility was mentioned by a retired detective who spoke to Forbes, who said the DEA may have opted to use an AirTag, thanks to its more reliable connectivity than the GPS devices that are available to law enforcement. An AirTag “can be hidden easier and is less likely to be found by suspects,” Wilkins told Forbes. “Suspects are getting better at countersurveillance techniques.”
It isn’t known whether the feds somehow disabled the AirTags anti-stalking feature that warns iPhone users when an unknown AirTag is tracking them. AirTags also make a beeping sound when not near their owner for a long period of time. However, there are ways to disable the beeper, as can be seen in multiple YouTube videos.
The intended recipient of the pill press was not charged in federal court. However, he was been charged by the state.