Thursday, February 12, 2009


Do you think no one is listening when you switch off your cell phone?

by Larry Geller

You hold down the Power button and the phone goes through this little scene and then goes blank. So it’s off now, right? We all assume that, anyway.

Well, author Harry Lewis, professor of computer science at Harvard and the former dean of Harvard College and co-author of “Blown to Bits: Your Life, Liberty, and Happiness after the Digital Explosion,” says that’s not necessarily so.

If federal authorities want to, Lewis said, they can get the phone companies to secretly “upgrade”your phone’s software so that even if you push the power off button and it goes dark, it is still transmitting whatever it hears. Of course, the phone would also be transmitting your position. He said that evidence of that kind has been introduced into court cases. In effect, if you are carrying around a cell phone, you are carrying around your own bug.

Check out today’s Democracy Now, either on the web (the program segment is here) or on Olelo tonight at 10 p.m. on channel 56 on Oahu. The website has no transcript at the moment, but the cellphone mention is around the 42 minute point in the program if you want to zoom in using the streaming video on the website.

Lewis also noted that there are many other ways that we can be electronically tracked. Any time you buy something with a credit card or store discount card a record is made, of course. But I was surprised to learn that EZPass records (the card that people use to breeze past the toll gate in places like New York) are routinely subpoenaed in criminal and civil cases. Lewis said it was pretty standard stuff in family law cases. The guy says he’s a good father, but why is it he heads home each night at about 9 p.m.?

Hmmm… my cellphone seems to need charging each day now. I assumed that my battery is just getting old. Maybe that’s no longer a safe assumption.

Now, I have an idea. If I forget something, like what was the phone number of that shoe store we visited in New York last year, why couldn’t I call up the NSA and ask them to help me out? The info should be right there in their files. The least they can do is give it back to me, I need to call that store again. On second thought, maybe I shouldn’t ask anything about shoes, since shoes are now potential weapons….


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