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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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By ThisSpaceForRent on 12/3/2006 2:25:50 PM , Rating: 2
The real danger behind a capability such as this isn't misue by the FBI, but by the NSA. The FBI is part of the Federal court system, and to a certain extent there are checks and balances. The FBI can tap anyone's phone if they wanted to, but then that evidence isn't usable in a court of law. An agency such as the NSA does not operate in the Federal court system. They were never intended to operate domestically, which is why there was such a bug fuss over Bush's decision to use the NSA to intercept outgoing international calls. The NSA can basically do whatever they want to since they were never intended to be used to monitor the activities of those inside the United States. The other problem with the NSA is anything that they, or the CIA do for that matter, is not usable in a court of law. I read an article forever ago, wish I had a link to reference for this, which stated that the CIA knew about the 9/11 hijackers being in the country prior the attacks. However, at the time, there was a disconnect between the CIA and FBI, because of legal reasons. Anything the CIA knew the FBI could not use domestically for legal reasons.

I have no personal issues with the FBI using technology such as this. There is a system of checks and balances in place with the FBI. The real potential for abuse exists with our intelligence gathering services abusing this technology. Granted the potential is small, but given the state of the world today, it is only a matter of time before this is abused. We have already kidnapped people by accident, so this too will be abused with time.

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