Thursday, April 20, 2006

Employer Bugs and Wiretaps

One significant aspect of the 1968 Omnibus Crime Control legislation was that Congress excluded switchboards and other types of business equipment from the definition of "interception devices." The practical effect of that exclusion was that for another twenty years, businesses were able to continue their nearly century-long practice of listening in on workplace conversations without fear of violating the new federal wiretap laws.

In the last fifteen years, there have been some efforts-most notably the Electronic Communications Privacy Act-to restrict the amount of eavesdropping that employers can do to their employees. Although the Act continues to favor employers, the threat of both civil and criminal liability has probably cut back on the amount of corporate eavesdropping that occurs.

Not surprisingly, however, there are no reliable figures on how many employers in this country are using hidden bugs and secret wiretaps to listen to their employees and their customers. In most states, it is illegal to record a conversation without the consent of all participants. The Granite Island Group, a Boston-based technical surveillance counter measures firm, offers a list of the signs that you may be bugged:
  • People seem to know your activities when they shouldn't.
  • Your AM/FM radio has suddenly developed strange interference.
  • Electrical wall plates appear to have been moved slightly or "jarred."
  • The smoke detector, clock, lamp, or exit sign in your office or home looks slightly crooked, has a small hole in the surface, or has a quasi-reflective surface.
  • Certain types of items have "just appeared" in your office or home, but nobody seems to know how they got there. Examples include clocks, exit signs, sprinkler heads, radios, picture frames, and lamps.
  • You notice small pieces of ceiling tiles or "grit" on the floor or on the surface area of your desk.

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