Mobile phones, the stealth ID card, bug and tracking device in your pocket.

Earlier this month it emerged that the FBI had been remotely activating a mobile phone's microphone and using it to eavesdrop on nearby conversations. The surveillance technique, which "functioned whether the phone was powered on or off." came to light as a result of a ruling by U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan on the legality of the "roving bug". It had been approved by 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. Cell phones owned by two alleged mobsters, John Ardito and his attorney Peter Peluso, were used by the FBI to listen in on nearby conversations.

The news that the FBI had been remotely activating mobile phones as eaves dropping devices confirms what many activists have been saying for years.

"A cellular telephone can be turned into a microphone and transmitter for the purpose of listening to conversations in the vicinity of the phone. This is done by transmitting to the cell phone a maintenance command on the control channel. This command places the cellular telephone in the 'diagnostic mode.' When this is done, conversations in the immediate area of the telephone can be monitored over the voice channel." - National Reconnaissance Organization newsletter,1997.

As long as I can remember there has been a kind of unspoken rule among activists about taking batteries out of mobile phones during meetings to prevent bugging - along with occasional arguments about it being paranoid. While it has long been know to be a theoretical possibility, the mafia court case confirms it is actually a practical technique and is being used.

It is not clear exactly how the FBI achieve their remote activation but it is known that it is possible to update the software on a mobile phone by sending an unnoticeable SMS message to a particular cell phone. Changes to the phones software than make it possible to spy on the user around the clock, as long as the phone has power. All SMS messages can be read and all calls and conversations can be listened to, including those taking place in the vacinity of the phone. It would also be possible to access and copy address books and other information stored on the phone.

It should be fairly obvious to anyone that simply 'switching off' a mobile phone could not prevent the software from reactivating the phone at will. Like most computers, the on/off switch on a mobile phone is simply a button that requests the software to do something, ie.. turn the phone on or off - or more acturately, switch the phone between standby and normal operations. Many have an alarm feature which can operate when the phone is apparently 'switched off'.

Some of the vunerabilities of mobile phones may only be exploitable by the state or private interests with financial muscle to obtain access to the records of mobile phone networks. Others however are much easier to exploit and well within the capabilities of private investigators. One example is the ability to read mobile phone numbers from all phones in a room as those phone routinely poll and communicate with the nearest cell phone repeater.

And lets not forget the ability to track cell phones (again, potentially even when they are turned off). With the data retention laws requiring mobile phone networks to keep this data for a year or so, it is easy for the authorities (or private agencies with influence) to not only monitor somebodies movements but also cross reference that with other people and build up acturate pictures of networks of association.

As repression on dissent increases, it is vital that we are all aware of the information we provide our enemies and what steps we can take to limit the damage.

What advice might you consider?

Don't take any mobile phone to a meeting and if you must, remove the battery.
Don't take your personal mobile phone with you on actions.
Remove the battery if making journeys others should not know about.
Better yet, don't take the phone or send it out on a walk in the park with a friend.
Don't power up you 'clean' action phone in any building you don't want assocaited with an action.
Never use 'clean' action phones to call comrades personal phone numbers.
Don't call a 'clean' action phone from any 'non clean' phone.
Don't continue to use the same set of action phones on future actions.
Only pay cash for phone credit and don't not from places with CCTV (difficult).

Further reading...

FBI story:
http://news.zdnet.com/2100-1035_22-6140191.html http://www.informationliberation.com/?id=18443
http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20061203-8343.html

Background:
http://www.wasc.noaa.gov/wrso/security_guide/cellular.htm

Some examples...

Clearly the police are using the location records of phones to link people to actions, some recent examples:

"A GANG of travellers are facing jail for a series of violent ram-raids, robberies and burglaries after they were linked to the crimes through mobile phone records."

"Mr Farmer said mobile phone records had been crucial in securing guilty pleas and convictions..."

http://www.cambridge-news.co.uk/news/ely/2006/12/13/80f9ff15-a536-4d01-9...

"At a press conference this morning Mr Gull said that officers were looking at mobile phone calls made and received by the girls and were also analysing DNA, but refused to go into more detail."

"When asked about Anneli and the other women's mobile phone records, Mr Gull said: “I don't want to go into details, it's very sensitive, but it's something we're looking at.�

http://new.edp24.co.uk/content/news/story.aspx?brand=EDPOnline&category=...

"THE EADT has now filed an official complaint against Suffolk police after its most senior detective obtained the private mobile phone records of a journalist in a bid to discover his sources."

"Editor Terry Hunt has requested a full explanation for the action taken by Det Supt Roy Lambert in a letter sent yesterday to Chief Constable Alastair McWhirter."

"As revealed in yesterday's EADT, confidential mobile phone records of reporter Mark Bulstrode were obtained by Mr Lambert so he could find out who he had been speaking to."

"The move was taken after the journalist approached the force with information about the reopening of an historic investigation."

http://www.eadt.co.uk/content/eadt/news/story.aspx?brand=EADOnline&categ...

A the pieces are now in place for the electronic police state.