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FBI Uses cellphone Speakers to Monitor Conversations

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User ID: 74188
United States
12/06/2006 05:06 PM
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FBI Uses cellphone Speakers to Monitor Conversations
[link to news.com.com]

FBI taps cell phone mic as eavesdropping tool
December 1, 2006, 2:20 PM PST

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.

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."