Wednesday, 5 May 2010

FBI taps cell phone mic as eavesdropping tool

The technique is called a "roving bug," and was approved by top U.S. Department of Justice officials for use against members of a New York organized crime family who were wary of conventional surveillance techniques such as tailing a suspect or wiretapping him.
Nextel cell phones owned by two alleged mobsters, John Ardito and his attorney Peter Peluso, were used by the FBI to listen in on nearby conversations. The FBI views Ardito as one of the most powerful men in the Genovese family, a major part of the national Mafia.
The surveillance technique came to light in an  opinion published this week by U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan. He  ruled that the "roving bug" was legal because federal wiretapping  law is broad enough to permit eavesdropping even of conversations  that take place near a suspect's cell phone.
Kaplan's opinion said that the eavesdropping technique "functioned  whether the phone was powered on or off." Some handsets can't be fully  powered down without removing the battery; for instance, some Nokia  models will wake up when turned off if an alarm is set.
While the Genovese crime family prosecution appears to be the first time  a remote-eavesdropping mechanism has been used in a criminal case, the  technique has been discussed in security circles for years.
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."
Nextel and Samsung handsets and the Motorola Razr are especially  vulnerable to software downloads that activate their microphones, said James Atkinson, a  counter-surveillance consultant who has worked closely with government  agencies. "They can be remotely accessed and made to transmit room audio  all the time," he said. "You can do that without having physical access  to the phone."...
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Declan McCullagh @'ZDNet News'
(Thanx BillT!)

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