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They can see us, read our emails, watch our IM conversations, and now even hear us whether we want them to or not

It seems as though George Orwell hit it the bullseye again when he wrote about Big Brother and the government's way of keeping track of the general public. It has been recently revealed that the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation has a way of tapping a cell phone and using the microphone to listen in on nearby conversations.

The method used for listening in on conversations held by alleged members of Cosa Nostra is called a "roving bug" and was ruled to be a legal method of wiretapping by U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan. The bug was alledgedly used on two Nextel phones. It looks like all cellular phones are vulnerable to this sort of wiretapping according to CNet's findings:

The U.S. Commerce Department's security office warns that "a cellular telephone can be turned into a microphone and transmitter for the purpose of listening to conversations in the vicinity of the phone." An article in the Financial Times last year said mobile providers can "remotely install a piece of software on to any handset, without the owner's knowledge, which will activate the microphone even when its owner is not making a call."

Kaplan further added that the functionality of the roving bug was in place even when the phone was powered off -- or at least when the phone looked to be powered off.  One possible method that the FBI used to tap into the two Nextel phones is by getting the network to install a rogue firmware update which gave the agency access to such features.

Such capability has long been rumored to exist in Motorola phones after it was discovered how the 9/11 terrorists used cellular phones to coordinate most of their activities.

Still there are some skeptics who believe that this method does not exist and that the FBI had to have physically planted a bug into the cellular phone to monitor conversations. But with the recent boom of PDA phones and devices that support custom software it was only a matter of time before hackers, or the government found a way to exploit similar features.

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This is Old News
By Dactyl on 12/2/2006 8:15:37 PM , Rating: 3
Michael Totten reported this over a year ago.

So long as this is only used in extreme cases (vs. organized crime, for instance), why would this be so terrible? If it makes it that much more difficult for organized crime to get organized, that benefits those of us who aren't mafioso. The important thing here is judicial oversight.

A cell phone that can turn itself on is no more intrusive than a real bug attached to someone's jacket.

There's an easy way around this, anyway: design a phone so the talk button is a slider on the side. To make a call, push the button up. To end the call, slide the button back down. When the button is down, the mic would be physically disabled (not even wired to the rest of the phone). That's the easy solution. Of course the phone companies won't make this, because they're tied in very deep to the government.

The government regulates the airwaves that cell carriers need to use, so the cell companies all try to be the government's best friend. They can't afford to be cut off, or they'll lose tremendous business. That means cuddling up to law enforcement. It's that simple. There's no way around it.

RE: This is Old News
By SLEEPER5555 on 12/2/2006 8:47:18 PM , Rating: 3
i too remember this being reported a loooooonnng time ago, they used a blondstar mic to listen in on a guy (i think it was a mob guy) he got the recording thrown out of court because it created a safety issue where during that time he wouldnt have been able to use blondestar for an emergency and therefore it was illegal.


RE: This is Old News
By Dactyl on 12/3/2006 12:58:42 AM , Rating: 2
That rationale does make sense. People rely on cell phones now more than ever. Because everyone has a cell phone, there are so few pay phones. Which means people need cell phones that much more.

I don't know who would buy a phone based on my "MafiaPhone" concept (organized crime? privacy buffs?), but I'll bet government agents have phones that are not susceptible to this sort of bugging. I seriously doubt the FBI allows its agents to use phones that are vulnerable to the same tricks the FBI is using against criminals.

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