Sophie Black writes:

Last week, The Guardian broke the story that News Corp’s News of the World paid out $A1.46 million to the chief executive of Professional Footballers’ Association, Gordon Taylor after it was discovered that Private Investigators hired by the paper had tapped his mobile phone.

Since then, a dozen high-profile figures have contacted lawyers after their phones were allegedly hacked by the same tabloid, with Manchester United boss Alex Ferguson also targeted. The Guardian said actress Gwyneth Paltrow, singer George Michael, ex-England football manager Sven-Goran Eriksson and former deputy prime minister John Prescott were among other celebrities targeted.

Crikey bugged Warren Mallard PI, Managing Director of Lyonswood Investigations & Forensic Group about the practice of phone tapping in Australia:

Q: How easy it to tap someone’s phone here?

A: Sadly, despite legislation in each of the States and the Federal (national) legislation that relates to the illegality of using, manufacturing, advertising and selling listening/surveillance devices that relates to the tapping of telephones, seldom do we ever hear of any prosecutions. It seems that the law enforcement agencies are just not interested.

I have written to the Federal Police three times in the past year and I have not yet received a response. I have even identified the offenders. Law enforcement agencies are well aware of the different pieces of legislation as they themselves have to apply for a warrant before they can intercept phone calls. They know that people intercepting or recording telephone conversation are committing criminal offences. It is apparent that these days anyone — with totally immunity from prosecution it seems — can bug the phone of their partners and competitors and commit criminal offences against these individual State laws and the Federal Telecommunications Interceptions Act.

Members of the public regularly contact me asking me to bug the conversations of their competitors/partners and when I tell them it’s a criminal offence to do so, without exception they advise that many in the investigation industry advertise and provide this service. Naturally I warn them against getting involved in the commission of a crime.

If you Google ‘Private Investigators’ you’ll find these companies on the right side of the screen in the sponsored area:

Mobile Phone Spy

Remotely Listen To Calls & Read SMS
Works On All Cell & Mobile Phones!

Spy On Any Cell Phone

Download Software and Instantly
Listen to Calls and Read SMS

It’s not just listening devices that we have to worry about — it’s the placement of tracking devices on our vehicles. The company below freely advertises that they will track your vehicles and monitor the movement of those vehicles. I know that to place a tracking device on a vehicle involves a trespass and even if the vehicle is owned by the client if the investigator, there is an obligation by the owner to advise all who drive that vehicle that it is being monitored:

Other GPS trackers can only tell you where the unit has been… Our unit tells you its location RIGHT NOW, at anytime!

The unit is the size of 2 matchboxes and comes with a weatherproof rubber case and super magnet to allow easy attaching to the underside of any vehicle.

Just place a SIM Card into the unit and make a phone call! The unit will instantly send you a text message to your mobile phone with its EXACT Latitude and Longitude, accurate to within a couple of metres. The package includes mapping software which allows you to see where the unit is on a Street Directory style map!

The unit is specially designed for long battery operation time (150 hours). The installation is extremely easy. The high GPS and GSM sensitivities make it being able to function under the dashboard in a vehicle without any external antennae. Vibration sensor and reed switches are available. View more information on real time GPS trackers

In NSW the Surveillance Devices Act makes it clear that it is illegal to do so without the permission of all parties that drive that vehicle. Nonetheless unscrupulous private investigators are reaping a harvest and thumbing their noses at the inept and negligent law enforcement agencies who don’t act to put a stop to this.

Q: How common is this kind of thing?

A: Very common and it’s now a worldwide phenomena.

Q: How do you tap someone’s phone?

A: It’s easy, the software can be loaded onto the phone manually if it is for instance your marital partner or sent to a competitor’s phone via the net. Take this advertisement explanation, for example:

Download Mobile Phone Monitoring software directly onto a mobile phone and receive copies of SMS, Call Logs, Emails, Locations and listen to conversations within minutes of purchase.

Mobile Phone Monitoring is software that you install on a mobile phone. After installation, Mobile Phone Monitoring secretly records events that happen on the phone and delivers this information to a web account, where you can view these reports 24/7 from any Internet enabled computer or mobile phone. Mobile Phone Monitoring also allows you to listen to the surroundings of the target mobile, listen to the phone conversation and to know the location of the device.

Mobile Phone Monitoring Software captures the contents of all SMS and email messages, the details of phone call records (number, time, and duration) and the name assigned to the number in the phones address book. If you have a phone equipped with GPS, (most current phones have this ability) then you can also receive the GPS coordinates and view the phone’s actual location via Google Maps! View more information on mobile phone monitoring software

Q: How easy is it to tap into mobile phone voicemail services like the News of the World private investigators?

A: As I understand it all communications whether they be voicemail or texts are transmitted to the bugger. And they are real buggers let me tell you.

Bugging can also be carried out on land lines at the mains in the street outside the premises or the PABX within the premises if the person bugging the phone line can gain access. There is also the ability these days with infra red technology and parabolic microphones to intercept at least one side of that conversation.

Much of our work these days is in the risk prevention area and we are regularly called upon by corporate and domestic clients to carry out Technical Surveillance Counter Measures sweeps TSCM to ensure that prior to a board meeting or perhaps interviews related to a sensitive tender process that the area of risk is free of interception. People have become very concerned about technological advancements and the inability of perhaps the lack of concern being displayed by law enforcement agencies.

If a party that an unscrupulous person wants to bug has a cordless phone then unless that phone has sophisticated frequency hopping capabilities, then a simple RF (radio frequency) scanner can be purchased for a couple of hundred dollars and all your conversations can be intercepted. This is how criminals break into homes when you are not home. They can sit in a street and monitor phone calls from hands free devices and listen to your every move and know when you are going to leave and when you will return.

Hands free phones are transmitters and when a conversation is transmitted it’s in the air space and able to be intercepted.

Q: How can you tell if someone’s bugging your phone? Any telltale signs?

A: It is seamless and you cannot tell unless you purchase bug detection/ spyware detection software or have your phone checked out by a Forensic expert.

Q: How would the private investigators that the News Corp journos in the UK hired have tapped people’s phones?

A: Simply by loading the software onto those phones remotely.

Q: How do you prevent this from happening?

A: Firstly the people who advertise these services need to be prosecuted. Secondly the police need to do something about the problem instead of ignoring it. People who advertise these products from overseas are still committing offences in this country. What is the good of legislation if it is not policed.

The main problem is the lack of legislation and regulation related to the internet itself. The most powerful vehicle in the world is not a McLaren F1 it’s the internet and everyone can hop on board without a license and drive people out of business and ruin the lives of others. You need a 100 points of identity to drive a car, to register a dog, to get Medicare, to get a passport etc but you need absolutely nothing to open an e-mail account or a website. The solution to much of the crime now being committed over the internet can easily be minimized by making applicants prove their identity before being allowed to get on board.

The crimes of greed in the near future will not involve guns and knives. You can easily take money from people over the net. It’s already happening and very quickly and all because of the lack of regulation and policing of that regulation.