Forget about the guys in dark glasses following you everywhere you go-your house, hotel room or car being bugged, the little snitch is in your pocket. Zimbabwe is one of those countries in the world where freedom of speech is limited. We still have a government that does not want people to express their views freely and over the years the state agents have been one of the state machinery used to silence those championing the free speech cause.
We have heard stories of people who disappeared without trace and some who are later found dead. An example that comes to mind that of Edwin Bhundani Nleya, a 35-year-old captain in the Zimbabwean National Army (ZNA) who disappeared and was two months later found dead on a hillside in Hwange. It is said he wanted to spill the beans about the illegal dealings of the national army in Mozambique. There are so many other examples.
For the ten years I have worked as a journalist in Zimbabwe I have made friends with politicians, journalists and people in civil society. Most of them have one thing in common; they are worried about their security. They are careful where they go, what mode of transport they use and they always avoid public places like bars and well-known hotels. Maybe its time they changed their strategy. Your biggest enemy is that cell phone you are carrying everywhere. Those who want to spy on you can listen to all your conversations even when its off, give away details on where you are and even give away your life online because most of the cellphones these days have access to the internet.
Spyware marketers claim you can tap into someone’s calls, read their text messages and track their movements “anywhere, anytime.” They say you can protect your children from an evil babysitter and “hear what your boss is saying about you.” And while you’re spying on others, the Spyware companies say “no one will ever know” because it’s supposed to be “completely invisible” with “absolutely no trace.”
What they are not telling you is that government can also spy on those they view as enemies and many mobile network providers will not admit that they are already doing it and sharing this information with state agents.
There is software that can silently turn on handset microphones even when no call is being made, allowing a spy to listen to voices in a room halfway around the world. Neither call logs nor phone bills show records of the secretly transmitted data.
Spyware can be installed remotely or directly to your phone’s browser. Phones highly vulnerable are smartphones but even those old phones can still be tracked using the process of triangulation. Technology advances enable mobile phone users to engage in activities once limited to a personal computer.
While it is possible that those who spy on you can do it without the help of the cell phone companies, if you are not using a not so smart phone they can still get information about you with the help of the cell phone provide using triangulation or pinging . A cell phone can be located at any given point in time by using the phone GPS. To “ping” in this context means to send a signal to a particular cell phone and have it respond with the requested data. All new generation cell phones and mobile service providers are installed the “E-911” program, to be or become GPS capable so that 911 operators will be able to determine the location of a caller who is making an emergency phone call. When a new digital cell phone is pinged, it determines its latitude and longitude via GPS and sends these coordinates back via the SMS system (the same system used to send text messages). This means that if there is someone in government who wants to locate or spy on someone who has a GPS enabled cell phone, when being pinged that cell phone can be located within a reasonable geographic area- some say within meters of the cell phone.
With the older style analogue cellular phones and digital mobile phones that are not GPS capable, the cellular network provider can determine where the phone is within a hundred meters or so using “triangulation” because at any one time, the phone is usually able to communicate with more than one of the signal base stations provided by the network provider. The cell towers are typically 5-10km and a phone is usually within range of at least three of them. By comparing the signal strength for the phone’s carrier signal to reach at each tower, the network provider can triangulate the phone’s approximate position.
In Germany, Green Party politician Malte Spitz sued German telecoms giant Deutsche Telekom to hand over six months of his phone data and what he found out was amazing. All the details were there. Number of calls a day, incoming, outgoing, text messages, hours spent online, different locations he visited. His life was very public. ZEIT ONLINE combined this geolocation data with information relating to his life as a politician, such as Twitter feeds, blog entries and websites.
Here are some of the signs that can help you tell your phone is bugged but when it’s done a service provider you will never know.
- Data bundles do not last long because of high- data usage has increased,
- Phone won’t turn off - your phone does not respond to your request to turn it off.
- Short battery life - you need to charge your battery more often.
- Background light - your phone lights up when it’s not in use, or it stays lit longer than it should when you turn it off.
- Background noises - unusual, can suggest that someone is listening to your conversation.
- Phone is warm - it’s normal for a phone to warm up while in use, and cool down after use. A phone that is warm while not is use, may be suggestive that spyware is running.
Also keep a close eye on your cell phone so that others never get an opportunity to download information such as spy software when you’re not looking. Also it is important to install a security password on your phone to restrict anyone else from using it. When you are in those secretive meetings discussing company strategy or politics remove the battery from the phone, that way the phone will not be able to transmit information and you cannot be located.
So if you thought the cell phone is a very safe gadget, think again after all even the smart phones are not that smart.