When I was in Beirut in April one of the leaders of the Cedar Revolution, Nabil Abou-Charaf, told me that Syrian intelligence agents used cell phones to “spy” on people.
“You mean they monitor your phone conversations,” I said.
“No,” he said. “They can listen to us all the time even when we’re not using the phone.” He could tell I didn’t believe him. “We know as a fact they can do this.”
The Middle East is notoriously paranoid. When your country is infested with secret police that will happen. Nabil had good reasons himself to be paranoid. He told me he had already been arrested and beaten for standing up to the Syrian puppet regime. Just a week before I met him someone ran his car off the road and left a message on his answering machine and said that was just the beginning.
Still, I didn’t believe what he said about spies using his cell phone as a bug. If the cell phone is off or just sitting there it isn’t transmitting a signal.
Looks like I was wrong. Julian Sanchez at Hit and Run points out this chilling excerpt from a story in last week’s Guardian.
The main means of tracking terrorist suspects down has been the monitoring of mobile phone conversations. Not only can operators pinpoint users to within yards of their location by “triangulating” the signals from three base stations, but – according to a report in the Financial Times – the operators (under instructions from the authorities) can remotely install software onto a handset to activate the microphone even when the user is not making a call.
I’m sure the police love this feature. Police states apparently love it, as well.