this blog is still quite new so i don’t really know if i have a lot of readers out there (well according to my stats surveillance there is one or two). but i’m trying anyway: do anyone know of reliable sources that document the extent to which cellphones can be used to spy on their owners? i recall reading a claim somewhere that government agencies possess technology by which they can remotely turn on the microphone and camera in a cell phone and record everything they see and hear – even if the cell phone is switched off.
i then repeated this claim in a conversation with a norwegian journalist, and now he wants me to say it on the air (at least HE didn’t carry a covert listening device… 😉 ) and i want to make sure i am not just repeating some urban legend. so i am writing this post as a sort of scrapbook of evidence that i can find of this surveillance – please add stuff in the comments if you know any good sources for this claim!
with the help of google and this wikipedia article i found some reports of this kind of surveillance from a few years back, first one from – you guessed it, the “war on terror”:
financial times, 1 aug 2005: use of mobile helped police keep tabs on suspect
and then i found several about this case where the fbi were eavesdropping on members of the mafia:
zdnet.com, 1 dec 2006: FBI taps cell phone mic as eavesdropping tool
– apparently the fbi presented such wiretaps as evidence in a trial, discussed in this document which to me looks like an authentic opinion of the court, confirming the claim that they could record through the mike of a cellphone while it was switched off.
jennifer granick of the eff in wired 25. september 2007, discussing the legality of the government tracking people’s location in real-time versus past movements: is that big brother in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?
this article at brighthub.com mentions the fbi’s use of the “roving bug” in connection with gps tracking: ethic violations and gps cell phones
and apparently there is an ongoing trial in the us about just this topic: do the authorities need a search warrant to be allowed to track the location of your cell phone? interesting editorial in the nytimes discussing the issue, 11 feb 2010.
i found one academic source: Farley and Wang (2009) Roving Bugnet: Distributed Surveillance Threat and Mitigation, Springer Boston. i haven’t reviewed it beyond the abstract, it apparently speaks about laptops and pcs rather than cell phones.
oh and i found a lot of ads for spyware and surveillance programs, promising to do all these things…
in short i found a lot of mention of the authorities using cell phone microphones for wiretapping, and various forms of positioning to track suspects’ movements. but so far i haven’t found anyone claiming that the authorities can, or do, tap into people’s cameras. on the other hand, if they can access the microphone it seems reasonable to assume that they can, at least theoretically, also access the camera in the same way. but it would be nice to see the claim in some more or less authoritative source…