Know Your Cell Phone

Did you know that when you turn your cell phone “off” it is not actually off?
Well, I had previously heard a rumor that the GPS (global positioning system) stuff was still available when a cell phone was “off,” enabling it to be used as a tracking device. But that was a rumor, and I hadn’t taken the time to research it.
Today comes news, from reliable sources like court documents, that in fact the microphone can be used when the phone is “off.”

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.”

Pretty amazing, huh? Lest you think this is all science fiction, note that the court opinion regarded the admissibility of said evidence against a mafia crime family. So it’s been done, is being done, and is being admitted in court.
Of course, if you have nothing to hide then you have nothing to worry about, right?

A BBC article from 2004 reported that intelligence agencies routinely employ the remote-activiation method. “A mobile sitting on the desk of a politician or businessman can act as a powerful, undetectable bug,” the article said, “enabling them to be activated at a later date to pick up sounds even when the receiver is down.”

Other mobile providers were reluctant to talk about this kind of surveillance. Verizon Wireless said only that it “works closely with law enforcement and public safety officials. When presented with legally authorized orders, we assist law enforcement in every way possible.”

Oh, and that really neat OnStar “safety net” in your car?

Surreptitious activation of built-in microphones by the FBI has been done before. A 2003 lawsuit revealed that the FBI was able to surreptitiously turn on the built-in microphones in automotive systems like General Motors’ OnStar to snoop on passengers’ conversations. When FBI agents remotely activated the system and were listening in, passengers in the vehicle could not tell that their conversations were being monitored

I feel so safe I can hardly stand it.