Listening in

San Diego ranks high on the list of California jurisdictions where federal judges issued the most wiretaps last year, according to the recently released 2008 Wiretap Report by the Administrative Office of the United States Courts. Eighty-three intercepts were authorized by judges here, ranking the San Diego County jurisdiction third behind Los Angeles at 181 and San Bernardino with 84. When it came to the number of days of listening in, San Diego was in second place with 3134 days; L.A. had 5898, and San Bernardino, 2510. Breaking down the San Diego taps by case type, 77 were for narcotics investigations, 4 for larceny and theft, and 2 for homicide and assault. That suggests local politicos can rest easy, since no wiretaps were ordered for corruption, conspiracy, or racketeering cases.

Taxpayers may be interested to know that wiretaps don’t come cheap. The average cost per order in the San Diego jurisdiction was $37,713. In San Francisco, it was $158,698. As a result of the local taps, the report says, 168 people were arrested and 100 convicted.

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I guess i can't make that call for my medicine over the phone anymore!

This worries me. Do wiretappers sit in vans? There's a gray-haired Anglo guy in a white GMC panel van with tinted windows and California plates who has parked maybe 12 feet from the front windows of my beach-area house for many months at all hours of the work-day, always with the van motor running. The van is rented and registered to a parking lot company. Sometimes the guy sits in the front seat, sometimes in the back, often with the sidewalk-facing doors open, and he frequently seems to be working on a computer. (I know he's not that city council candidate who got busted for flashing last year, but who is he and why is he always here?) Though this has been going on since last fall, in the last month I have called the cops every time I notice that he's showed up again because it seems so weird. After my first call an officer said he checked out okay but asked him to move along because neighbors were concerned that he was casing the area. He told the officer that he liked to eat lunch there and he left -- only to return again later that at 4 p.m. And he's been back twice in the last week, once in the morning and once after lunchtime.

If you're being monitored, you wouldn't know it from a van parked in front. The monitoring software is built into the telco system and is accessed remotely by law enforcement.

It's called a "Lawful Intercept Module". What it does is allow police to identify a call/caller/device by the Call Data Record (CDR) which is where all the signaling information is stored. The telco doesn't even have to know that the cops are making a recording request. They have "plausible deniability" by design.

Once you know a CDR, it can be used to identify specific call "streams" which can then be turned into an mp3 and delivered to the cop's email for their listening pleasure.

So long as it's set up properly, you would never, ever know.

The same system allows them to monitor your land line, mobile phone, text messages, and even your VOIP conversations. If you think you have any privacy, forget it.

Your best hope is that due to incompetence and over work, they just aren't interested in you in the first place. After all, it's just not possible to listen in to every conversation. There's not enough time.

But technically speaking, it's child's play to monitor you 24/7.

I recently did some work for a Russian telco that has delivered just such a telco system to Putin and his friends can now listen in to all the conversations there -- and we cannot unless Russia agrees.

Yeah. Nice world, huh?

Stupid American cops are more interested in listening to my man Spliff calling around trying to locate a quarter, when we ought to be interested in listening to Al Queda...

...that's our government at work.

Feeling safer?

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