Wednesday, February 25, 2009


Be the first on your block to tap your neighbor’s phone calls

by Larry Geller

Well, we have a new administration in Washington. The days of the Bush abuses are over, right? Check this out.

The NSA is still wiretapping us. They’re pretty brazen about it now. Here’s an ad in the current issue of IEEE Spectrum magazine:


The ad says they have 40 trillion bits of data per second and need help to check it all. On the left side are pics of ordinary people, just like you or me (only happier, and with better teeth etc.) who they think can help them.

As we’ve pointed out, how do they know if your email is going to someone evil or not unless they look at all of them? The routing information is in the header. So all the headers need to be checked, it would seem. Yours and mine and everyone’s. That’s what’s in the 40 trillion bits they want inspected.

Similarly for phone calls. This article appeared last month:

Journalists too

So it’s no secret. And Obama hasn’t stopped it. And jobs are scarce, so what a great time to advertise for spooks. It’s also low-risk, probably done from the comfort of some desk rather than undercover in an overseas embassy.

Your neighbor may already have applied.

So what can we, as ordinary citizens, do to maintain our privacy? It amazes me that emails are still sent in plain text anyway. Encryption at least makes it much harder and more time-consuming to crack open an email. For sure, the evildoers are encrypting already, many of them have average or above-average intelligence. They know that they are being monitored.

There are some simple services for obscuring phone calls, though with perhaps dubious applications. Take for example:

Spoof and Trap

This one offers not only to set any caller ID you select, but you can change your gender in real time, while speaking on the phone. Scary, huh? Not only does this let you hide your caller ID, but you could put someone else’s in, for example, the White House number. Then someone would think they’re getting a call from Obama himself. I know, you can think of worse than that. I can too, and it doesn’t feel good.

At the bottom of the page is a companion service that offers to reveal the caller ID of an incoming cell phone call even if it is blocked by the caller. The basic service is free! I tried it, but it complained that it only works in the continental 48 states. Sigh, another case of discrimination against Hawaii. But anyway, this one is scary if the call is from an abused spouse or someone else who really needs to block their caller ID. Do they need to subscribe to the top service to escape users of the bottom one?

And above all, will it fool the NSA?

At least, as long as the NSA has all this info on us, they could return some value to the people. For example, I can’t remember the name or number of the store I called last week. How about I give the NSA a buzz and they can remind me.


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