Electronic Eavesdropping—It Is So Easy!
WHEN is a bug not a bug? Today the world is rapidly becoming familiar with the term “bug.” The growing popularity of the term, however, is not an inordinate concern and interest in those pesky little insects that creep and crawl into our homes or onto our clothes. A dictionary of any ancient vintage may clearly define “bug” as one of these creatures. Only the newer dictionaries, however, may define “bug” as being an eavesdropping device, a tiny microphone “hidden to record conversation secretly.” Many of those who have been so infested have found extermination of them costly indeed.
The recent development and miniaturization of electronic components have made these eavesdropping bugs often as difficult to detect as skin parasites. As tiny as a match head, these devices can be put in pens that write, concealed in cigarettes and cigars, inserted in tiny holes in walls or ceilings, and even embedded under the surface of the skin. They have been disguised as an aspirin tablet or a martini olive. Others have been worn as earrings.
Behind light-switch plates, in telephones, and in the ground-wire openings of electric outlets are more likely places to hide these electronic eavesdroppers. These latter ones are called parasite bugs because they obtain their ability to transmit from electrical power rather than short-lived batteries. When telephones are bugged, they can be made to transmit voices whether the phone is in use or not. Thus the technology to invade your privacy by means of electronic surveillance has been developed and established. Where to hide such equipment depends merely on the wild imagination of the eavesdropper.
Although the sale and use of various types of electronic eavesdropping devices are prohibited by law in many states and countries, including the United States, they are readily available for those who would surreptitiously invade your privacy. They are easy to buy from a variety of shops, electronic stores, and mail-order houses. A simple bug the size of a postage stamp, one that operates on a standard nine-volt battery and that can transmit voices to a receiver 400 feet [120 m] away, retails for as little as $35.00 (U.S.). For about the same price, a Japanese company retails a more powerful transmitter that is the size of a fingernail and that has a broadcast range of a thousand feet [300 m].
Some of the devices, however, are not built by the manufacturers as bugs. For example, at a retail price of a mere $24.95, a nationwide electronic-store chain in the United States sells a wireless room-monitoring system for a child’s room. Just plug it into an electrical outlet, and sounds can be transmitted from one part of the house to the other. Others are simple wireless microphones smaller than a cigarette pack. These have legitimate uses, but in the wrong hands they can be reduced in size and concealed in a very tiny space.
Bugs are easy to buy, and they are almost as easy to build. With as few as nine tiny components, costing less than $10.00 (U.S.), a person with an elementary knowledge of electronics can build a wireless device that can pick up a whisper in a room and transmit the voice a fourth of a mile [.4 km] away.
The most prevalent means of eavesdropping is by the use of telephone wiretaps. The subject’s phone need not be seen for this to be accomplished. If, for example, the target’s phone was on the tenth floor of an office building or in an apartment, a wiretap may be placed on the subject’s phone from the phone’s trunk line in the basement. Voice-activated tape recorders placed by illegal wiretappers have been found under homes. When the phone is lifted for use, conversations are taped. Posing as a telephone repairman, a person often finds it easy to gain access to the victim’s phone line.
Under most circumstances and in many countries this form of eavesdropping is illegal. Yet, according to one expert whose business it is to find and remove bugs and phone taps, “Twenty-five percent of our testing results in identifying a wiretap.” Since bugging is considered widespread in the business world, executives of large corporations are cautioned by another expert, “Beware of any gifts that plug into the wall.” Your electric clock or radio could have a bug in it. It could take an expert with expensive equipment to find it. Why, though, this growing infestation of electronic bugs?