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August 13, 2005

Can You Hear Me Now?

Here's a pretty sobering thought, via Reason's Hit & Run:

This piece from The Guardian last week discusses growing popular support for the use of surveillance technologies, as well as a little feature of your friendly cell phone I hadn't been aware of:

Not only can operators pinpoint users to within yards of their location by "triangulating" the signals from three base stations, but - according to a report in the Financial Times - the operators (under instructions from the authorities) can remotely install software onto a handset to activate the microphone even when the user is not making a call.

Posted by Julian Sanchez at August 10, 2005 02:23 PM

Michael Totten relates this interesting story from Lebanon on this same topic:

THEY CAN HEAR YOU NOW: When I was in Beirut in April one of the leaders of the Cedar Revolution, Nabil Abou-Charaf, told me that Syrian intelligence agents used cell phones to “spy” on people.

“You mean they monitor your phone conversations,” I said.

“No," he said. "They can listen to us all the time even when we’re not using the phone.” He could tell I didn’t believe him. “We know as a fact they can do this.”

The Middle East is notoriously paranoid. When your country is infested with secret police that will happen. Nabil had good reasons himself to be paranoid. He told me he had already been arrested and beaten for standing up to the Syrian puppet regime. Just a week before I met him someone ran his car off the road and left a message on his answering machine and said that was just the beginning.

Still, I didn’t believe what he said about spies using his cell phone as a bug. If the cell phone is off or just sitting there it isn’t transmitting a signal.

Looks like I was wrong.

What I don't know is whether this "feature" would be available on CDMA/TDMA (US) phones as well as on GSM (European) phones. Not that the feature would be tied to a particular bandwidth-usage scheme, but rather that it could depend on which phone vendors sell into which markets. I wonder what Steven den Beste would have to say about this for CDMA (and maybe QualComm chip sets)?

Posted by joke du jour at August 13, 2005 06:35 AM

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