Telescreens and Roving Bugs

Oh sorry, I was sleeping today.  But the rest of the world wasn’t.  The earth just never ceases to get crazier.  You should definitely click all the links in this little article.


So today we’re talking about roving bugs.  If you don’t know what that is, click the link obviously.  Basically, since they invented ‘conversations’ people have been hiding behind huge stones, burying themselves in haystacks, and hiding behind curtains to figure out what other people are saying in confidence to their cleaning ladies, shepherds, friends, queens or what have you.

Technologically, one of the first examples of eavesdropping on somebody was the dictograph invented in 1912 by KM Turner.


The dictograph, Mr. Fox says, has in the last six months revolutionized criminal prevention. He writes:

“In walls, under sofa and chair, in chandelier, behind a desk, beside a window, it has hidden – the unseen listener to secret conversations. The secrets of prison cells have been tapped, hotel rooms and offices have given up incriminating conversation. To representatives of the law, it has proclaimed loudly the whispered words of cunning malefactors. It has figured sensationally in the undoing of dynamiters, legislative bribetakers, grafters high and crooks low, across the continent. It eavesdropped in McManigal’s cell in the Columbus, Ohio, bribery case, in the Lorimer case, in the office of the Iron Workers’ Union at Indianapolis, in Gary, Ind., in – who knows? always listening where we know not, it promises more and more sensational disclosures, more confessions – an ‘automatic third degree.’”

Basically, since then, the government has come out with all types of ways to tap your phone that you may have never heard of.  Their newest trick is the roving bug.  The way cell phones work is by sending out signals to towers.  To make a long story short, the towers communicate with eachother.  By figuring out what cell phone towers that your phone is communicating with somebody with proper access can determine your whereabouts through triangulation of signal.

Nowadays phones have GPS etc in them.  While this is all good, and especially effective for emergency services, it does raise Orwelian questions.  In the face of the whole National ID thing, do you really want to be always locatable just because of the technology?

In the past it may have been harder for authorities to tap into phones, given that habeas corpus used to exist in some sense.  However, as we know, such civil protection is being overrided in favor of tougher systems in order to guard against any possible security threath.


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.

THE ROVING BUG, is actually not like a traditional bug at all.  Whereas a traditional tap would require the tap-ee to engage in a conversation, the roving bug turns your cell phone into the actual mechanism of the tap.  Yes, that means that even when you aren’t talking on your cell phone, a government agent with proper system access  could turn your phone into a live receiver.  I don’t know what you think, but that ish is crazy!

Not only is it super stealth, but it actually eliminates the need for the government to plant an actual physical bug.  Given that everyone these days has a cell phone, that’s a frightening proposition.  Sitting here staring at my MacBook, I start to wonder who’s watching me.

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