Covert listening device

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A covert listening device, more commonly known as a bug or a wire, is usually a combination of a miniature radio transmitter with a microphone. The use of bugs, called bugging, is a common technique in surveillance, espionage and in police investigations.

A bug does not have to be a device specifically designed for the purpose of eavesdropping. For instance, with the right equipment, it is possible to remotely activate the microphone of cellular phones, even when a call is not being made, to listen to conversations in the vicinity of the phone.[1][2][3][4][5]

Remotely activated mobile phone microphones[edit]

Mobile phone (cell phone) microphones can be activated remotely, without any need for physical access.[1][2][3][4][5][6] This "roving bug" feature has been used by law enforcement agencies and intelligence services to listen in on nearby conversations.[7] A United States court ruled in 1988 that a similar technique used by the FBI against reputed former Gulfport, Mississippi cocaine dealers after having obtained a court order was permissible.[8]

Automobile computer systems[edit]

In 2003 the FBI obtained a court order to surreptitiously listen in on conversations in a car, through the car's built-in emergency and tracking security system. A panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals prohibited the use of this technique because it involved deactivating the device's security features.[9][10]

Examples of use[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Schneier, Bruce (December 5, 2006). "Remotely Eavesdropping on Cell Phone Microphones". Schneier On Security. Retrieved 13 December 2009. 
  2. ^ a b McCullagh, Declan; Anne Broache (December 1, 2006). "FBI taps cell phone mic as eavesdropping tool". CNet News. Retrieved 14 March 2009. 
  3. ^ a b Odell, Mark (August 1, 2005). "Use of mobile helped police keep tabs on suspect". Financial Times. Retrieved 14 March 2009. 
  4. ^ a b "Telephones". Western Regional Security Office (NOAA official site). 2001. Retrieved 22 March 2009. 
  5. ^ a b "Can You Hear Me Now?". ABC News: The Blotter. Retrieved 13 December 2009. 
  6. ^ Lewis Page (2007-06-26). "'Cell hack geek stalks pretty blonde shocker'". The Register. Retrieved 1 May 2010. 
  7. ^ Brian Wheeler (2004-03-02). "'This goes no further...'". BBC News Online Magazine. Retrieved 23 June 2008. 
  8. ^ FBI taps cell phone mic as eavesdropping tool., CNET, 1 December 2006
  9. ^ Court Leaves the Door Open for Safety System Wiretaps, The New York Times, 21 December 2003
  10. ^ Court to FBI: No spying on in-car computers. CNET, 19 November 2003
  11. ^ Operation Dew Worm. Described by Peter Wright in Spycatcher: The Candid Autobiography of a Senior Intelligence Officer, Stoddart (paperback), 1987. pp. 79-83
  12. ^ "Fumigating the Fumigator". TIME Magazine. September 25, 1964. Retrieved 6 June 2009.  (subscription required)
  13. ^ Hyde, Hon. Henry J. (October 26, 1990), "Embassy Moscow: Paying the Bill", Congressional Record: E3555 
  14. ^ AUSTRALIAN SECURITY & INTELLIGENCE ORGANIZATION (ASIO) at the Wayback Machine (archived May 3, 2009) "In 1990, it was learned, that the ASIS, along with the help of 30 NSA technicians, had bugged the Chinese embassy. The story had originally been picked up by an Australian paper, but the ASIS asked them to sit on the story. Shortly thereafter, the Associated Press also picked up the story, but the ASIS also got them to sit on the story. However, the story somehow made its way to Time magazine, where it was published, compromising the operation."
  15. ^ Johnston, David; James Risen (1999-12-10). "U.S. Expelling Russian Diplomat in Bugging of State Dept.". The New York Times. Retrieved 27 March 2008. 
  16. ^ Damien McElroy and David Wastell (20 January 2002). "China finds spy bugs in Jiang's Boeing jet". The Telegraph. 
  17. ^ "UK embassy 'bug' angers Pakistan". BBC News. 2003-11-10. Retrieved 30 April 2010. 
  18. ^ "Vajpayee govt tried to bug Blair's bedroom in Delhi". IBNLive. July 20, 2007. 
  19. ^ "Delhi clumsily bugged Blair's room". The Times Of India. 2007-07-30. 
  20. ^ Moore, Matthew (2008-11-25). "Russia's teapot gift to Queen 'could have been bugged'". The Daily Telegraph (London). Retrieved 30 April 2010. 

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