This page may seem unusual for a website about communication. However, bugs and taps are devices used for surveillance of activities and communication. The word surveillance is a French word that means "to watch from above." Surveillance usually means that people, telephone calls, etc. are observed from a distance by means of electronic equipment such as bugs and taps.
Bugs are hidden microphones that secretly pick up sound and conversations and send them to a transmitter or receiver. The sound is usually recorded so that the spy can hear it over again or send it to other spies or officers. Did you know that some bugs could be made from parts of hearing aids? The tiny speakers in a hearing aid can be converted into microphones to make a bug. Bugs can be very small so that they are easy to hide. Some bugs are much smaller than a pencil eraser.
Taps are similar to bugs. Actually, they are a type of bug that is usually connected to a communication device like a phone or wire. They listen in on conversations. Did you know that taps can only hear a phone call but no other sounds in the room? This allows the message to be clear without interference.
Bugs and taps are best hidden in everyday objects. These objects can include walls, lamps, phones, pocket calculators, or on people. The type of bug carried on a person is usually called a “wire.” You may have heard this term on police shows. Most other bugs are placed in simple objects to make them easier to install and less likely to be noticed. Things like lamps, radios and telephones are simple to hide bugs in because extra wires often go unnoticed. Also, bugs hidden in these kinds of objects may not need batteries because they can be powered by the same electricity that runs the object. Other bugs use tiny batteries like the kind used on watches.
One of the most famous bugs in history was hidden in a gift to the United States. It was a replica of the seal of the United States given by the Soviet Union. It was hung in the U.S. embassy in Moscow. It contained a vibration sensitive bug that was eventually discovered by U.S. officials.
The CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) also invented a wristwatch that had a microphone hidden in it. In 1977, a U.S. spy in Moscow gave himself away when he forgot to remove his normal watch before putting on his “bugged” watch!
bugs are built to be used for a short time, then abandoned at the site
where they are used. They are usually abandoned because the people
planting the bugs are more likely to get caught trying to pick up the bug
than install it.
Taps differ from bugs in an important way, because they may not have to be hidden on a site. Many times a phone line can be tapped miles away from the person being listened in to.
similar item that is not really a bug, but is often used with a bug is a
tracking device that can be placed in a car. If police want to follow a
suspect car, they may hide a device, usually behind a car bumper, that
will send a signal letting the police know where the car is.
bugs and taps send information to a transmitter, tape recorder, or both.
Many times bugs used by police transmit to officers hiding nearby in vans
disguised as delivery trucks or to officers walking in the area. The vans
typically have tape recorders also. You have probably seen this kind of
setup on television or in the movies.
type of information do these groups gather by using bugs and taps?
Mostly, they want to know secret information that they can use in
some way. For example, police
officers use the information to catch criminals and gain evidence. If
police can record criminals planning a crime, they might prevent it or be
able to prove they did it.
investigators may use bugs and taps to spy on people suing companies or
individuals. They also may work for businesses that want to find out what
competitors are doing or planning.
all of these uses of bugs and taps are legal. Police need permission from
a judge before they can tap a suspect's phone or place a bug on the
suspect's property. Many times when businesses spy on each other it is illegal,
but sometimes hard to prove or prosecute.
Richard; Dann, Geoff; Gorton, Steve. Eyewitness:
"Bugs." Great Southern Security. January 2000 <http://www.greatsouthernsecurity.com/bugsm.htm>.
TSCM Tech. January 2002
Copyrighted clip art images and animations from "Microsoft Office Online" <http://office.microsoft.com/clipart/default.aspx?lc=en-us&cag=1> (October-March, 2004-2005). Clip art available only to licensed users for non-commercial purposes.
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