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curious about how authorities use cell phones to spy

Discussion in 'GENERAL Wireless Discussion' started by roosterman, Jul 28, 2011.

  1. roosterman

    roosterman New Member

    Jul 28, 2011
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    It has become well-known that authorities are able to turn cell phones into passive listening devices so that they can eavesdrop on conversations without being detected.

    I'm sure this gives most people the creeps, but lately, I've been wondering how this is possible.

    As far as I understand, a cellular phone is typically a programmable electronic device. If I wanted to, I could write some software that would run on my cell phone just like I could write software that would run on my PC.

    I do understand that being able to track the location of a cell phone is a by-product of providing cell phone service; this tracking data is produced by the service carrier in the course of providing service; it is not produced by the phone itself.

    I feel like I am missing some fundamental concept about how cell phones are programmed to operate. A personal computer is programmed to run software that a user installs. I can assemble a PC and install whatever software I want and be fairly confident that the software I'm running is the software I installed.

    However, there seems to be an aura of mystery about what's going on with a cell phone. Supposedly, knowledgeable users are known to remove the battery from their cell phones while having secret conversations to avoid the possibility of being spied on. These same people would likely consider it silly if I unplugged my PC because I was afraid it might be used to spy on me.

    Can someone please explain to me what is the fundamental difference between a cell phone and a PC that the former, in so many words, cannot be trusted to be secure, that it cannot be trusted to follow instructions from the user?

    If authorities can use an iPhone to spy on its user, is it only a matter of time before authorities use an iPad or some general purpose computer to listen to a conversation? :headscrat
  2. RadioRaiders

    RadioRaiders RF Black-Belt
    Senior Member

    Apr 2, 2007
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    Wireless Provider(s):
    Look into "Lawful Interception"
    Lawful interception - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    Generally speaking, "wiretapping" (or "wireless tapping") is nothing new and has been part of law enforcement for years. Police need a warrant for it, and it is tightly controlled, so authorities are not just eavesdropping on people randomly, so no real need to worry about privacy issues for the general public.

    Yes, a smartphone or PC could be used as a passive listening device, but some kind of software would need to be installed on it, so they (who ever wants to spy on you) would need physical access to your phone, or make you download/install it like malware. I don't think this is normally used in Lawful Interception, however.
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