FBI surreptitiously activating cellphone microphones as a "roving wiretap"

CNETnews.com has this article by By Declan McCullagh and Anne Broache: FBI taps cell phone mic as eavesdropping tool.  Brave new eavesdropping via a cellphone that is not even turned on:

The FBI appears to have begun using a novel form of electronic surveillance in criminal investigations: remotely activating a mobile phone's microphone and using it to eavesdrop on nearby conversations.

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.

The case is United States v. Tomero, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 85560 (S.D. N.Y. November 27, 2006).

Continuing from the CNET article with the links intact (I encourage readers to check the links):

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."

So far, this phenomenon is limited by the wiretap law, but where will it end?  Where else will the government seek to use a dormant cellphone as an eavesdropping device?

This is uncannily like the "screen" in everybody's home in George Orwell's 1984. One shudders to think of the possibilities.

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    Hmmm (none / 0) (#1)
    by aw on Sat Dec 02, 2006 at 11:33:25 AM EST
    Where else will the government seek to use a dormant cellphone as an eavesdropping device?

    Wherever they want.

    Can soundproof cases be far behind?  

    Or (none / 0) (#2)
    by aw on Sat Dec 02, 2006 at 11:34:46 AM EST
    you could just play the most obnoxious sound effects and music nearby.  Something nausea-inducing.

    Carry it in your back pocket. (none / 0) (#4)
    by Edger on Sat Dec 02, 2006 at 12:24:19 PM EST
    Eat your beans everyday.

    There is absolutely nothing new or... (none / 0) (#3)
    by Bill Arnett on Sat Dec 02, 2006 at 11:44:48 AM EST
    ...original about this idea.

    In 1967 or 68, the "Belgium Black Box" was invented for the purpose of activating the microphone of an on-hook telephone for the purpose of eavesdropping on everything within earshot.

    So even your "hung-up" phone at home can have the mic opened in this manner, and all of us have been vulnerable to the Belgium Black Box surreptitious listening program for almost forty years.

    Service You CanTrust (none / 0) (#5)
    by squeaky on Sat Dec 02, 2006 at 12:30:06 PM EST
    Wonder what the corporations get in return for their treachery.

    My toaster has been acting up lately....

    I won't engage in "you're toast" jokes! (none / 0) (#6)
    by Bill Arnett on Sat Dec 02, 2006 at 12:59:49 PM EST
    Burnt (none / 0) (#7)
    by squeaky on Sat Dec 02, 2006 at 01:14:00 PM EST
    Sorry Bill, I guess that was overdone.

    ROTFLMAO, thank you very much! (none / 0) (#8)
    by Bill Arnett on Sat Dec 02, 2006 at 01:17:04 PM EST
    But I'll still volunteer to help if you get into a jam.

    Now ... (none / 0) (#10)
    by Sailor on Sat Dec 02, 2006 at 04:29:05 PM EST
    ... you're just trying to butter him up and I think that's pretty crumby of you. Only a heel would have the crust to do such a thing.

    I don't know why (none / 0) (#11)
    by Jen M on Sat Dec 02, 2006 at 05:33:38 PM EST
    I feel a sudden urge for a pastry snack

    Warrant? (none / 0) (#12)
    by jimakaPPJ on Sun Dec 03, 2006 at 08:33:36 AM EST
    Hmmm. Isn't the real question whether or not they the Feds have a search warrant??