We get a lot of calls from people who think they have listening devices in their homes or offices. This is a common feeling when one has gone through a bad divorce, break up, or bad business dealing. I want to talk about what “bugs” are and how we find them.
What Is It?
When someone bugs a space, the technical term is “electronic surveillance”. In other words, they are hiding a device that can record voice, video, or both. There are many devices out there today, most are of bad quality (the cost is low) and some are excellent. If you search Amazon, you will see a variety of these devices. When you get them, the quality is bad if they work at all.
A common device these days is a phone charging block that doubles as a voice and video recorder. On the outside, these devices work and act like a phone charger. Other devices include:
- Hidden microphones inside wall outlets
- Lightbulbs that appear real but hold a camera or microphone
- Drink coasters that contain a camera and mic
- Other household items with hidden microphones
When we go out and look for these items, we use a tool that detects electronic transmissions and we conduct a physical inspection. Out of thousands of these searches in homes, offices, and government buildings, I have only discovered a hidden device 10 times.
Now to the most common way people listen to you.
With iCloud, Google, Amazon, and Microsoft cloud services, most people expose their whereabouts, text messages, photos, and call history to others unknowingly.
If you have a relationship, romantic or professional, you often allow others to access your cloud services without even thinking about it. Did you allow your boyfriend access to your Prime account? How about your business partner and OneDrive? Now, these relationships have ended and you forgot to remove them as users. That’s how they know everything about you.
Once these relationships end, immediately turn off location sharing, sign out of all accounts, and change passwords.
When we search for listening devices, we always check the client’s devices for others signed in. Eight out of ten times, unwanted people are signed in on the clients’ accounts.
If you are unsure how to do this, get with a private investigator or digital forensic expert for help.
What Does The Law Say?
Alabama Code Section 13A-11-31 – Criminal eavesdropping states the following:
(a) A person commits the crime of criminal eavesdropping if he intentionally uses any device to eavesdrop, whether or not he is present at the time.
(b) Criminal eavesdropping is a Class A misdemeanor.
(1) EAVESDROP. To overhear, record, amplify or transmit any part of the private communication of others without the consent of at least one of the persons engaged in the communication, except as otherwise provided by law.
(2) PRIVATE PLACE. A place where one may reasonably expect to be safe from casual or hostile intrusion or surveillance, but such term does not include a place to which the public or a substantial group of the public has access.
(3) SURVEILLANCE. Secret observation of the activities of another person for the purpose of spying upon and invading the privacy of the person observed.
Of course these contain a lot of “legalease”. So, I will attempt to break it down. We get asked all the time to “bug” a house or another place of business. This is illegal and will cause problems for everyone.
We conduct surveillance all the time and video people walking in and out of homes, in shopping centers, and in restaurants. Is this illegal?
When surveilling in neighborhoods, we always remain on a public street or in a place where there is a low expectation of privacy such a parking lot.
In shopping centers, there is no expectation of privacy so we take pictures easily.
In restaurants and bars, we are allowed to eat, so who we see around is fair game.
Now, if we walked up to someone’s window, stood on their property and took a picture through the window, we are subject to Peeping Tom laws and would be violating privacy.
Along the same lines, if we placed an audio recording device in a home and left it, this is illegal. The state code says “ANY” device to eavesdrop is illegal. However, if we had the device in our pocket and participated in the conversation, it is legal.
See the difference? The standard is that if we can see it from a public place, or a from a place where privacy expectations are low, then we can video as much as we want.
We recently recorded video of a woman and her paramour engaged in illicit activity through a window. The blinds were open and the investigator could see everything from the street. This is legal.
If we snuck into a home and placed a hidden camera to record voice or video, this is illegal and will land me in jail if caught.
If the homeowner wants to install hidden cameras in their home or office, they have that right. However, there are certain rules to follow to keep out of trouble.
Placing cameras in bathrooms, changing areas, and bedrooms can be construed as illegal since it violates the privacy of people. I tell people to keep the camera in common areas such as living rooms and kitchens. This is usually a case when one spouse suspects the other of bringing a paramour into the home while away on a trip.
We have advised several clients when they used a USB camera and caught spouses bringing lovers into the home. These cameras were placed in kitchens and living rooms and captured clear acts of adultery.
Many ask me about recording in a child’s bedroom. Children under the age of 18 do not have similar rights while living under their parents homes. When that child becomes an adult, cameras in the bedroom are not advisable.
Audio recordings are treated different from state to state. In Alabama, recordings from one’s own home typically can be used in court if one of the people in the recording is aware they are being recorded.
Placing a hidden device in room, leaving it, and then recording is no good. This evidence will not be presented as evidence because at least one of the people talking have to be aware a recording is taking place.
These rules vary by state so check with an attorney or your state code to learn more.
- Locating hidden cameras and listening devices involves the detection of radio waves and a physical inspection.
- Check with a lawyer about laws pertaining to eavesdropping and peeping tom rules.
- Many people break the law with eavesdropping because they are ignorant of the law.
We conduct electronic surveillance countermeasures, also known as “bug sweeps”. Contact us to learn more.