Printer Friendly

Party line of the 90's.

Things always seem to go full circle. The party-line eavesdroppers of our grandparents' day are back, this time with scanners in hand.

Cellular phone calls are monitored by thousands of Americans. Conversations are monitored with over-the-counter scanners. Listeners consider the privacy laws unenforceable and freely listen in as naive callers "tell it all. " Cellular phone callers should realize how public their private calls" are.

Cellular phone systems transmit radio signals over public airwaves, and they are tuned in with ease. Although cellular technology has made vast improvements in phone quality, capacity, and convenience, the technology has not improved privacy. Cellular voice signals are as easily tuned in as any other radio signal. Conversations may be transmitted on any one of hundreds of channels or switched to other cells, but when the signal goes out, a scanner can track it down and lock on. Not every call is monitored every time, but when the possibility exists, all privacy is lost.

The would-be listener finds it easy to put a scanner into operation. Sources for the legal purchase of equipment and information are readily available. Several publications are also available, the two most widely read being Popular Communications and Monitoring Times. These magazines contain advertisements for receivers, scanners, and converters, which can cover the cellular frequencies, and columns that discuss frequency allocations, the legal aspects of cellular listening, and methods for improving reception. These publications are available at newsstands everywhere. Tom Kneitel's book Tune In on Telephone Calls (Commack, NY- CRB Research Books, 1988) includes "everything you need to know to effectively use a scanner and communications receiver to eavesdrop on private telephone conversations."

If the aspiring listener can't afford a new $250 scanner, he or she can get by with a home television set. If it covers channels 80 through 83, careful tuning will produce a phone conversation superimposed on a weaker signal or data channel. It may be crude, but it works. Eavesdropping equipment and information are out there, and they're selling.

Cellular phone users feel that because it's illegal to listen to cellular, it must be private. The cellular industry agrees, but unfortunately it isn't true. You have legal protections against a government authorized wiretap, but you have none against a private wiretap. The three million plus eavesdropping enthusiasts just haven't figured out how to tap your phone lines without being caught, or they would. They have, however, figured out how to listen to cellular phones with absolute impunity. It's easy to do, and the law against it is unenforceable.

The Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 was intended to make existing wiretap legislation apply to new communication technologies. It was a civil liberties issue. It was Big Brother. For companies in the cellular industry, however, it was Big Business. They wanted to assure the public that cellular was private.(1) It's illegal to listen to cellular calls, but because it's impossible to detect a radio eavesdropper, catch him or her in the act, or prove he or she did listen, the privacy protection is an illusion. This fact is obvious to anybody who has a scanner and feels inclined to listen in. So your protection, other than from Big Brother, depends on the honor system. Good luck ! Cellular phone users feel comfortable with the new toys. There's even a heightened sense of privacy in a car with the windows rolled up. Sensitive personal and business matters are openly discussed. Most users obviously have no clue their calls are being monitored.

The problem is that there is no way to know if someone is listening, who the person is, or how much of the con(1) Bob Davis, "Eavesdropping Looms as a Problem as Cellular Telephone Use Widens," The Wall Street Journal, October 29, 1986, p. 31. (The president of the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association says the purpose of the law is to assure the public that cellular calls are private.) versation was overheard. If the eavesdropper hears something of value and feels so inclined, he or she can sell or otherwise misuse the information. The victimized cellular user will have no idea how the information was leaked. A perfect crime! The only defense is the knowledge your privacy may not be ensured when you use a car phone.

Salespeople insist cellular is completely private.(2) When the industry openly discusses the subject, which is rare, it uses carefully chosen wording, such as that eavesdropping is "extremely difficult."(3) The usual explanation is that there is no problem because your conversation is illegal to listen to, it's very difficult to tune in because there are so many channels, and the signals are switched so frequently. Plus, nobody is really interested in listening anyway.

To be hoodwinked like this is a big mistake.

As a general rule, you should remember one thing: " Whatever you say on a cellular phone can be heard by other people."(4) Remember that old saying that means a lot, especially today: Loose lips sink ships.

A BRAND NEW CELLULAR PHONE is no more private than an oldtime car phone. Mobile radiotelephone service is over 45 years old, but as a result of skyrocketing growth by the cellular industry, few are even aware the older system still exists.(5) In the early 1980s, severe capacity limitations were felt, resulting from the allocation of only 44 channels to the service. Since a system could handle a (2) Comments regarding FCC Rulemaking 5577 by Robert Horvitz of the Association of North American Radio Clubs, November 4, 1986. A quote from a telephone conversation between John Pratt, sales representative for BAMS, a cellular operating company in Vienna, VA, and Horvitz on February 7, 1986: "One of the beauties of cellular telephone is that it is completely private. It is actually more private than the land line we're speaking on right now. . . . If you're using the land line phones right now, you're using a less secure mode than cellular." (3) "How Private Are Your Telephone Calls?" Cellular Talk, newsletter of Southwestern Bell Mobile Systems, October 1986. ("As a vehicle travels through a metropolitan area, the driver's conversation is continually switched from tower to tower.... All cellular calls are switched and moved around frequently, making cellular eavesdropping extremely difficult.") (4) Andrew M. Seybold and Mel A. Samples, Cellular Mobile Telephone Guide Indianapolis: H. W. Sams, 1986). (5) Tom Kneitel, "Telephones En Route," Popular Communications, December 1989, p. 4. maximum of only about 1,000 subscribers, lengthy waitings lists were common.

When a user finally got a phone, he or she would frequently experience delays waiting for a channel to become available. The systems use a single high-power (250-watt) transmitter/receiver atop a tall tower, giving a range of about 35 miles. That's good coverage, but it doesn't serve enough customers. Public demand created a need for more car phones.

In 1982 the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) allocated an initial 40 megahertz (MHz) in the 800 MHZ to 900 MHz band for cellular mobile phone service. The improved technology developed by Bell Labs in the 1960s provided mobile phone service similar in quality to that of conventional phones but with the capacity to serve tens of thousands of customers per system.(6) Nevertheless, it remained a mobile radiotelephone system transmitting voice signals via circa 1940 FM technology. Neither car phone system is private unless encryption is used.

A cellular system's service area is subdivided into smaller regions called cells, each with its own tower and low-power transmitter/receiver. The typical system has 20 to 30 such cells, each serving a 5- to 10-mile radius. The short range and low power of the system allow the use of a given frequency simultaneously at more than one cell site. This feature, called frequency reuse, combined with the availability of hundreds of channels, gives cellular such remarkable capacity. The telephone line interface and cell site control are accomplished at a computer-controlled switching center.

As a caller moves about the service area talking on a car phone, the computer determines which cell the mobile unit should use, based on signal strength and the channel requirements of the cell. When signal strength drops as the mobile unit leaves the coverage of one cell, another cell with better reception picks up the mobile unit. This is a hand-off.

The cellular operator need install only as many cells as are required to cover the licensed service area. To increase system capacity, the number of cells can be increased as long as their range is proportionately reduced. It's a tremendously efficient system. (6) "Fast Moving Phones," Standard & Poors Industry Surveys, PT-24, December 22, 1988.

Both forms of mobile radiotelephone service are currently in use, but the phenomenal growth of cellular systems indicates the customer's preference. The FM radio signals transmitted by both systems are identical, and with the appropriate receiver, conversations from either system may be easily tuned in.

Users of the older systems have been warned of security issues and usually govern their conversations accordingly. Cellular users, on the other hand, are not warned,(7) and the convenience and quality of the service lulls them into a false sense of security.

THE INDUSTRY IS HOT AND IT wants to stay that way. Concerns over privacy could cool things down. Cellular companies equate the mention of privacy with lost revenue.

Revenues will exceed $3 billion next year. According to the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA), there were 2,691,793 subscribers as of September 1, 1989, and growth is sustained at 30 percent every six months - not bad for a six-year-old start-up industry. In spite of high startup costs and operating losses, investors are paying astronomical amounts for a piece of the action.

Standard & Poors Industry Surveys reports that "because sales are unusually nil and cellular systems almost always operate in the red, the usual methods of valuing business-through financial ratios such as price/earnings or price/sales - have little or no meaning. The market has alternative methods, such as putting a price on the number of the persons living in a given market, or in industry jargon, the "price per pop."Recently, some cellular franchises have traded at more than $100 "per pop." This is stunning in that as recently as 1986, cellular firms were trading in the $20 to $30 "per pop" range. "

The attraction stems from the fact that the FCC does not regulate the industry on the basis of the price or profit, but rather serves as a licensing authority, franchising two operators in each of the 305 metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs). Thus, once established in an MSA, an operator need only wait for use to pass the break-even point, and (7) Memorandum and order regarding Rulemaking 5577 (petition for rulemaking to require labels on cellular telephones). FCC 87-230 Memorandum Opinion and Order privacy warnings on cellular telephones-denial), July 17, 1987. he or she will own the proverbial money machine. Just about everybody is a potential customer at the right price. So, as phone prices ($200 to 300 now) continue to fall, the future looks bright indeed.(8)

Even with frequency reuse, 404 voice channels, and the ability to subdivide the service area into more, smaller cells, systems in our largest cities are approaching full capacity.

To solve the problem of full capacity, digital cellular technology research is underway. The current analog voice channels serve only one call at a time. Digital techniques, however, allow multiple, simultaneous conversations on each channel.(9) Full-capacity operation of a digital cellular system will greatly increase earnings potential.

The as yet unpublicized benefit of digital will be a vast improvement in privacy. However, for the industry to brag about upcoming improvements in privacy protection, it would be acknowledging the present shortcomings.

Digital technology means new equipment will be installed and operated parallel to the existing hardware. The capital investment will be staggering, and the new digital phone units will be larger and more expensive. To realize the higher profit potential, the industry will have to exhibit some fancy footwork. Existing analog customers will have to be motivated to switch to the "high-priced spread," and new customers willing to pay more for their phones must subscribe. The sales tools and timing will be critical because maintaining the steady revenue growth is essential. The problem is, Why should a customer care whether he or she uses digital signals or not?

The privacy skeleton will be dragged out of the closet. The powerful sales incentive of offering a private phone (8) "Users Are Increasing and Prices Are Dropping as Cellular Phone Service Continues Its Growth, " Communications News, August 1986, p. 40. (9) "Cellular Showing No Sign of Cooldown," Communications News, April 1989, p. 6. ("The user base for cellular telephones should move beyond the professional user to the ordinary household user. Industry observers expect the user base to grow to 6.7 million by 1992. A demonstration of digital cellular communications in Philadelphia in spring 1989 may signal great potential for the industry. International Mobile Machines claims it will run eight simultaneous telephone calls on a single cellular radio channel. Previously the company had been running a four-call-per-channel setup. Analog is limited to one call per channel. Digital is seen as the key to keeping up with user demand.") call if you use digital will prove irresistible. WHEN VOICE SIGNALS ARE replaced by digital data streams, the scanner listener will hear an obnoxious, raspy buzz where a steamy conversation once was, and at that time he or she will retire from cellular monitoring. Until then, however, that person will be listening. If we want to understand what a listener does, we must view cellular transmission from his or her perspective. The FCC divides the public airwaves into chunks that are defined by upper and lower frequency limits. These frequency allocations are designated for specific services, such as radio and television broadcasting, public safety, amateur radio, aeronautical, and so on. The FCC has designated 50 MHz of the spectrum for the exclusive use of cellular, mobile radiotelephones. The Federal Register(10) refers to this allocation as "Domestic Public Mobile" and specifies the frequencies as 824 MHz to 849 MHz and 869 MGz to 894 MHz. Above, below, and between these two blocks are allocations for various other mobile radio services. It's an active band and a bonanza for the scanner enthusiast and others.

The way cellular systems use this allocation is fascinating. For a radio conversation to seem as natural as regular telephone conversation, one must be able to speak and hear simultaneously. In technical terms, this is known as full-duplex radiotelephony. Half duplex exists when a microphone button is pushed with each transmission, cutting off the receiver. Full duplex is easy with wires.

With a radio, the transmitter and receiver must operate on different frequencies simultaneously. The two frequency blocks used by cellular systems

are separated by an offset of 45 MHz. The mobile units transmit on the lower block, listening on the higher. The cell sites work the other way around. Since the frequency of the receiver is offset 45 MHz from that of the transmitter, the receiver is not interfered with and full-duplex operation is achieved.

The specifications for new cellular phones indicate that they cover 832 channels. This figure is arrived at by dividing each of these two blocks into 30 KHz segments. These channels are (10) "Cellular Radio, Private Land Mobile Radio, and a Mobile Satellite Service (Final Ruie), " Federal Register, October 22, 1986, p. 37, 398. numbered in ascending order, beginning at the bottom of each block. Cellular channel 3 represents the frequency pair 825/870. So, if the system directs your call to operate on channel 3, your car phone will be sending on 825 MHz while listening on 870 MHz, and the cell site will be sending on 870 MHz and listening on 825 MHz. Of the 832 channels, 24 are used for control functions and 808 for voice signals. These channels are further subdivided because a given area has service provided by two competing companies. Each company gets half. A subscriber thus has 404 voice and 12 control channels. To understand how all this works, let's look at the connection process, step by step.

When a cellular phone call is made, a complex series of electronic steps automatically takes place. The user dials a phone number on his or her handset and presses the send button. The mobile receiver scans the control channels, selects the strongest signal, sends a digital, frequency-shift-keyed (FSK) service request message, and then stands by, locked into that channel. After receiving the message, the cell site, as directed by the central switching station computer, transmits a voice channel assignment, switches its transmitter and receiver to the appropriate frequency pair, and transmits a supervisory tone. The mobile unit receives the channel assignment, switches its transmitter and receiver to that channel, and turns on the transmitter.

If the tone is heard by the mobile receiver, it is retransmitted simultaneously. If the tone is then heard by the cell site receiver, the central switching office dials the number and holds the circuit open so that a full-duplex conversation may be accomplished.

The mobile unit's signal strength is continually monitored. Control signals are sent to increase or decrease the power output of the car phone transmitter sO that uniform quality is maintained. If the signal gets too weak or the cell becomes too loaded with other traffic, the switching office selects another cell site, where the signal is being received strongly enough, and orders a handoff. The switching to a new cell site with a new control channel and voice channel happens so quickly that the conversation underway is scarcely affected.(11) (11) "Earl McCane, "Cellular Radio Telephones: The Making of a Call," Mobile Cellular Business, January 1986, p. 26.

The cell site antennas are placed as high as possible so the relatively low power used (25 watts-effectively higher at antenna gain) will be adequate to ensure good coverage and the 3-watt (max) signals from the mobile units can be heard. Using these low power levels prevents interference between cells using the same frequency and thus makes frequency reuse possible.

The 25-watt FM voice signals transmitted from the cell sites in the 869 MHz to 834 MHz range are readily receivable by simple scanners, communications receivers, and television sets. Eavesdroppers are capable of hearing these transmissions from many times the cells' normal range. These conversations, so easily overheard, provide a great entertainment for some and extortion opportunities for others.

LISTENERS WHO ENJOY MONITORING cellular telephone calls aren't all extortionists. Most fall into a larger category of radio monitoring enthusiasts who may listen to anything from distant AM broadcast stations to satellite communications. Magazines, newsletters, and books contain stories on equipment, frequencies, and listening techniques as well as provide a resource for the mail-order purchase of equipment and supplies.

The number of cellular listeners is keeping pace with growth in the cellular industry. In a July 14, 1986, Newsweek column titled "Hearing It Through the Grapevine with a Scanner," the late Robert A. Hanson, then executive director of the Scanner Association of North America, which publishes Popular Communications, estimated that 8 percent of households used scanners and that I million new units were sold annually. This figure was recently updated by a source at Popular Communications to be 12 to 14 percent, with an estimate of over half those households being capable of cellular reception. This is conservatively over 3 million potential eavesdroppers. The source added, "That's the big thing now, to listen to cellular telephones. "

The Electronic Communication Privacy Act is well understood within the scanner community. Bob Grove, publisher of Monitoring Times, points out, "Naturally, there are no FCC bedroom voyeurs watching what people do in the privacy of their homes from the standpoint of recreational scanning. It's 100 percent unenforceable, and so, for that reason, the scanner listeners really aren't too worried. "

The November 1989 issue of Monitoring Times includes advertisements for a wide variety of receivers, scanners, and converters. Many are capable of receiving cellular frequencies either off the shelf or after minor modifications. Their prices range from $80 to $6,000.

Also found in that issue are ads for accessories, such as tape recorders, computer programs for high-speed scanning and frequency surveying, antennas, and preamplifiers. Bob Kay's The Citizen's Guide to Scanning is referred to as "the soup-to-nuts scanner book." Columns may review scanner recording equipment(12) or describe in detail which cellular frequencies provide the best reception and why.(13)

CRB Research Books Inc., a specialized mail-order book firm, advertises the previously mentioned Tom Kneitel book Tune In on Telephone Calls.

Few who talk over the telephone

have the foggiest notion that

their "private" calls can be so

handily intercepted by police, private

investigators, their neighbors,

and those with ulterior motives.

As a result, they argue, plot,

lie, cheat, accuse, brag, get engaged/divorced,

deal drugs, conduct

illicit romances, make indecent

proposals, gripe about money,

gossip, complain about their job (12) Bob Kay, "The Scanning Report: Scanner Babysitting," Monitoring Times, May 1989, p. 34. (13) "Chuck Gys]i, "Scanning VHF/UHF," Popular Communications, January 1990, p. 56.

& their neighbors, engage in highly

charged family hassles, seek investment

& legal advice, offer/accept

bribes, etc. These are tradespeople,

politicians, celebrities,

business execs, criminals, the news

media, and your neighbors. This

is the first book ever to provide

an indepth examination of the frequencies,

services, and techniques

used for telephone call

eavesdropping-despite virtually

unenforceable legislation enacted

to try and dissuade the public from

listening on at least some of these

calls.

Information and equipment is readily available to anyone who wants to join the ranks of the already 3 million potential cellular eavesdroppers.

RADIO WAVES OBEY THE LAWS of physics. No governmental law or edict can change that. Transmit an interesting signal, and it will be heard. Citizens scan the public airwaves searching for things to listen to. Our free society permits unrestricted ownership of radio receivers, and their use is impossible to regulate. These facts were recognized shortly after the invention of radio, and since that time, we have always had the legal right to listen to any signal. In 1986, cellular signals were singled out as forbidden fruit. That happened because of the way wiretapping has been dealt with by Congress and the courts.

The legal issues surrounding wiretapping have been wrestled with for over 60 years. The continual introduction of new technology seems to stay one step ahead of the law, providing an endless procession of loopholes.

The Communications Act of 1934 supposedly ensured privacy in communications. With respect to radio, it affirmed the right of individuals to monitor private conversations heard over the public airwaves, but listeners were prohibited from divulging or otherwise misusing any information overhead.

The 1938 Supreme Court decision Nardone v. United States (302 US 379) found government wiretapping illegal under the law. The Justice Department continued wiretapping anyway, interpreting the law differently than the courts, but finally, in the 1967 case Katz v. United States (389 US 360), the Supreme Court concluded that wiretapping was a search and was thus covered by the Fourth Amendment as long as the subject had a "reasonable expectation of privacy. " The concept of "reasonable expectation of privacy"(14) continually changes as new technology is introduced.

Although an earlier Executive Order permitted wiretapping in cases where national security was at stake, it was not until the 1968 Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act that the government gained the right to wiretap its citizens. To safeguard people's privacy, the law imposed strict guidelines governing when and why a court order to wiretap could be granted. When the wiretap provisions of this law were drafted, plans for new technologies such as electronic mail, voice pagers, computer data banks, and cellular telephones were still on the drawing board.

In October 1986, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) was approved. It essentially extended the existing wiretap protection to the newer forms of communication. It became illegal for the government to intercept these communications without a court order.

Central to these deliberations was the concept of "reasonable expectation of privacy. " For cellular to be given wiretap protection, the service must be, by definition, private. So, if the legislators simply made the reception of cellular signals illegal, the users, they reasoned, would then have a reasonable expectation of privacy, and wiretapping could be controlled. This is a case of cat-chasing-tail logic. The cellular industry lobbied hard for this because now the public could be given the (14) Kenneth Sperry, " A New Look at Electronic Communications, January 1990, p.32. "assurance" (industry choice of word) of privacy, albeit a phony one.

"Protection" was provided for encrypted signals, signals transmitted on frequencies withheld from public use by the FCC, and common carrier signals such as cellular. Exempted and thus left unprotected are those radio communications "readily accessible to the general public." Among these are cordless telephone signals from the handset, amateur radio, noncellular mobile car phones, private mobile radios, marine and aeronautical services, and specified satellite signals.

How the legislators were convinced to define cellular as "not accessible to the general public," thus providing a reasonable expectation of privacy," when cellular can be heard on millions of scanners, receivers, and televisions is an interesting question. Also interesting is the contradiction wherein noncellular radiotelephone calls are left unprotected while cellular calls are given special status. Conventional radiotelephone users should insist that their phones be made "private" too! Their signals are so easily received that they're considered "readily accessible." Both services, however, transmit plain voice signals over UHF frequencies that would be difficult to distinguish if heard side by side. Listening to one is legal, and using the same equipment to listen to the other is a felony.

There is no difference between the voice signals transmitted by a cellular phone and those of any other UHF mobile radiotelephone. The service provided is essentially the same. So why was cellular mobile radiotelephone offered this special treatment? It happened because concerns about privacy were considered harmful to the development of the cellular industry, and there was big money at stake. Big money prevailed.

When the ECPA passed on October 2, 1986, it represented negotiations and compromises between the US Justice Department, civil liberties advocates, and representatives of the communications industry. The Justice Department didn't want its hands tied, the civil libertarians wanted the government's electronic loopholes closed, and the industry wanted to be able to represent its products as private. A consensus was eventually reached.(15)

With the law in place, the cellular user is indeed protected from unre(15) "Communications Privacy, " Congressional Quarterly Almanac, Vol. 2, 1986, p. 88. strained government surveillance, but the law as it applies to eavesdroppers is a hoax. In a letter dated April 15, 1986, to Congressman Kastenmeier, chairman of the Subcommittee on Courts, Civil Liberties, and Administration of Justice of the House Judiciary Committee, Assistant Attorney General John R. Boton stated, "If the government did attempt to enforce the law, the intrusions necessary to monitor the use of receiving equipment would far outweigh the privacy purportedly protected in the proposal. " The law has no teeth.

There is no constitutional way to prevent, detect, or collect evidence to prosecute offenders. The manufacture and sale of scanners and communications receivers used to pick up cellular is legal. Given these two facts, coupled with the attraction of the forbidden fruit, it's no wonder there's no privacy.

The public interest law group Washington Legal Foundation, arguing that the law was impossible to enforce, filed a petition with the FCC that the following warning be placed on cellular phones: Privacy of communications may not be ensured when using this phone." This warning to consumers would have exposed the hoax and was opposed by cellular industry groups. The FCC denied the petition, finding the warning "premature" and "not in the public interest.(16)

Cellular users' privacy is protected by an unenforceable provision of the ECPA. To date, there is no evidence of enforcement, in spite of the fact that there are over 3 million potential violators. This is a significant personal privacy issue, and there is evidence of a rising awareness to it.

In 1984, with George Orwell on everyone's mind, Francis A. Allen, the Edison R. Sunderland Professor of Law at the University of Michigan, wrote, Society, not just government, can pose a threat to the individual privacy. " He warns that the individual becomes vulnerable to invasions of privacy as he or she interfaces with technology.(17)

In a December 3, 1989, Washington (16) Petition for rulemaking by the Washington Legal Foundation. ("In the summer of 1986, WLF established a Media Law Center intended to carry on the program activities of the American Legan foundation. The instant petition is a produce of the WLF Media Law Ce4nter and is filed in the interests of promoting a marketplace solution to the problem of cellular telephone interceptions.") (17) "Freedom: The Right to Privacy, " editorial, USA Today Magazine, April 1984, p. 13. Post article, Rudolph Brewington and Robert Moore wrote, "Twenty years ago, the Congress did its part and enacted Title 18 of the US Code to protect the rights and expectations of privacy of Americans by banning the manufacture, sale, advertisement, and use of devices intended to secretly intercept and record oral and phone communications. Yet today, because of loopholes and contradictions in federal laws and lax enforcement of existing regulations, sophisticated electronic spy equipment is alarmingly available to the general public. . . . The ability of average citizens to bug each other actually exceeds the ability of law enforcement officials, who can conduct surveillance only under strict court procedure. . . . There is an inseparable link between privacy and freedom. If you lose your privacy, you have lost your freedom. "

Cordless phones suffer from eavesdropping in much the same way as cellular phones do. There's a whopping difference, however. It's legal to listen to your neighbor's cordless phone conversation. The cordless phones have warnings on them stating, "Privacy of communications may not be ensured when using this phone." Supposedly, there is " no justifiable expectation of privacy." And the Supreme Court recently upheld this view.

An eavesdropper with a scanner may listen to either cordless or cellular phone conversations at will. Because of the power levels involved and the height of cellular towers, he or she has hundreds of cellular conversations to choose from but only a few on the cordless frequencies. Thus, cellular users have a much greater exposure to potential interception than cordless users do.

THERE IS A CELLULAR PRIVACY problem today. It would not be the case if FCC policies were followed. In an official public notice,(18) the FCC directed licensees and vendors to "be aware of the vulnerability of unprotected telecommunications to unauthorized access and the potential loss of communications privacy to the user . . . [who is] encouraged to implement the necessary protective measures. . . . "

As well as placing cellular providers on notice that their product is vulnerable and that they should do something (18) "Security and Privacy of Telecommunications," FCC Public Notice 6970, September 17, 1986. about it, the FCC has long held that the responsibility for privacy protection is that of the signal originator.(19)

The industry doesn't deal with the vulnerability issue because it isn't widely recognized and any publicity would be costly. The FCC's long-held policy that the cellular industry is responsible for its own signal privacy is being conveniently ignored because dealing with the issue, according to industry leaders, would "subvert the law's purpose-assuring the public that cellular calls are private."(20) (Note the choice of words: not "ensuring that cellular calls are private.")

In a September 13, 1986, New York Times column, Robert Jesse, a technology consultant, identifies the problem neatly.(21)

So Congress is about to give the

cellular telephone industry ammunition

for advertising and bamboozling,

promising privacy that

does not actually exist. Cellular

service companies thereby hope to

avoid losing revenue from customers

who might use the service

less if they understood its vulnerability.

If Congress were serious

about privacy in the communications

age, it would scrap the Electronic

Communications Privacy

Act and begin anew. Legislators

and the public must first grasp the

true properties of new technologies.

Are those properties inadequate

or unsavory? If so, relief

will come only from research and

more technology, not wishful legislation.

Cellular users, if made aware of their lack of privacy, can effectively deal with it. Doing so is up to the user 100 percent because the industry and the government find the lack of privacy inconvenient to deal with.

Living in a society in which personal privacy is continually under attack, the citizen must be aware of the hazards. With respect to the cellular phone, he or she must be aware of the reality of (19) "Comments on proposed legislation to prevent interception of pay-TV signals. 89 FCC 2d 450, 455 1982. ("Although the individual user, not the government, must take the initial step to protect the privacy of his own calls, it has long been the Commission's view that the initial responsibility for signal protection should be on the signal originator, who is in the best position to protect the signal against unauthorized interception and use.") (20) Davis. (21) "Robert Jesse, "How Not to Protect Communications," editorial, The Wall Street Journal, September 30, 1986. the situation. Simply assuming that a stranger may be listening is the best protection. Following certain procedures can also minimize the risk.(22) If a cellular user must communicate sensitive information via a car phone, technological precautions such as encryption or scrambling may be employed. The equipment is available through either a cellular company or a phone dealer.

As another article in Security Management once noted, "You may not prevent outsiders from monitoring communications, but you can use voice encryption to prevent them from obtaining any useful information. . . . Encryption, not scrambling, is the option chosen by major industry suppliers and the government."(23) AT&T has developed an encryption unit compatible (22) Thomas Bernie, No Secrets on Cellular ... A User's Guide (Gloucester, MA: Cellular Security Group, 1990). (The booklet identifies security risks associated with car phone use, offers general guidelines and specific user procedures, and includes security warning stickers for land line and car phones.) (23) Steve Reddick, "Keeping Your Secrets Secret, " Security Management, February 1987, p. 71. with a standard analog cellular phone. One box is installed in the car and the other at the switching office. It provides secure digitized encryption of the voice signals to and from the cells.

The units are prohibitively expensive for most users (about $3,000 plus $50 to $100 per month). They primarily satisfy the government and defense contractor market.(24) Stand-alone encrypting phones are terrifically expensive ($5,000 to $10,000) and require a unit on each end.(25,26)

Scramblers are relatively unsophisticated analog devices. Some may use digital processing, but the signal remains analog. They typically attach to the handset of each phone. Phone suppliers sell these units for 300 to $400. The voice quality is poor, and actual protection depends on someone else's not listening in with a similar device. (24)Tobias Nagele, "Encryption Foils Cellular Snooping," Electronics, June 24, 1986, p. 20. (25) Philip J. Klass, "Contractors Ready LowCost, Secure Telephone for 1987 Service Start," Aviation Week & Space Technology, January 20, 1986, p. 114. (26) Robert G. Schwalls, "A New Tool for COMSEC, " Security Management, January 1989, p. 35.

The majority of cellular users must wait until digital is functional to have any degree of privacy. Chuck Spliker, president of Cellular 1000 (NYNEX), which serves the Boston area, estimates digital will be introduced in 1993 or 1994, but he is not sure if it will be considered secure. In all probability, it will be.

Until then, commonsense telephone security precautions must be taken. Specific educational material is available, including procedures and warning stickers for mobile and land-based phones. However, for general purposes, when you use a cellular telephone, don't mention names, don't pass specific numbers, don't discuss sensitive personal or business matters, advise the other party that you are on a car phone, and learn to talk around sensitive issues. About the Author . . . Thomas Bernie is president of Cellular Security Group, which advises business cellular users on developing security awareness programs. His booklet No Secrets on Cellular . . . A User's Guide is available for $10 from Cellular Security Group at 4 Gerring Road, Gloucester, MA 01930 (phone 5081281-8892).
COPYRIGHT 1990 American Society for Industrial Security
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:cellular technology, how privacy is being violated, what can be done about it
Author:Bernie, Thomas
Publication:Security Management
Date:Dec 1, 1990
Words:6080
Previous Article:Are we being misled?
Next Article:A little TSCM.
Topics:


Related Articles
Cellular eavesdropping: amateur scanning buffs listen in on Arkansas' 30,000 cellular telephones with scanners costing less than $300.
Cellular privacy enhanced, says Bell.
Confidentiality issues in high-tech communications; is the attorney-client privilege at risk?
No telling.
Privacy of Health Information: The New Y2K Challenge.
Protecting Privacy in a B2B WORLD.
U.S. District Court: RIGHT TO PRIVACY VIEW BY STAFF.
Cell phones and client confidentiality.
U.S. District Court: MEDICAL CARE INTERPRETERS.
Australian patient records exempt from privacy law.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2016 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters