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The Big Snoop
Electronic Snooping - Insidious Invasions of Privacy
• In Business
• In the Home
• By Law Enforcers
• By the Underworld
• By Anyone Who's Out To Get You

Life Magazine - 1966 - John Neary


MASTER EAVESDROPPER. Bernard B. Spindel, regarded as the U.S.'s No.1 electronic eavesdropper, uses a dentist drill to bore holes in a tiny amplifier. It can transmit a signal from a mike, 10 miles over a telephone line.

The man on the opposite page, peering through an illuminated magnifying glass as he assembles a tiny bugging device, is a specialist in the multi-million-dollar industry of eavesdropping. Without the slightest awareness on the victim’s part, this handiwork may wind up in the olive of a nearby martini, in the mouthpiece of his telephone, in a knob on his car’s dashboard, in the handle of his briefcase, even in a cavity in the tooth of an intimate associate. It will pick up what he says, amplify it and transmit it word for word to tape recorders that sometimes are situated hundreds of miles away. Despite the protection against invasion of privacy afforded by he fourth Amendment to the Constitution, bugging is so shockingly widespread and so increasingly insidious that no one can be certain any longer that his home is his castle – free of intrusion.

Senator Edward V. Long (Dem. - MO), whose Senate Judiciary Subcommittee has been holding intensive hearings on invasion of privacy by government agencies, has charged that “Federal agents are embarked on a nationwide campaign of wiretapping, snooping and harassment of American citizens.” The government has been electronically spying on its citizens for years. The Internal Revenue Service, for example, has admitted bugging public and private phones and even rooms where IRS auditors called businessmen for questioning, on the theory they might reveal something when IRS men left the room.



Federal agencies and police operatives at least can argue that wiretapping and bugging are helpful aids in the enforcement of the law. But that justification does not exist for the growing legions of private citizens – businessmen, union officials, employers, suspicious spouses – who find it ridiculously easy to indulge in electronic spying. They can choose from a vast array of inexpensive, easy-to-install snooping devices which can be bought over the counter with no questions asked. On these pages LIFE reveals in detail this electronic assault on privacy, the murky legal problems that are involved and the phenomenon which long before Orwell’s 1984 presages what Senator Long has called “a naked society, where every citizen is a denizen in a goldfish bowl.”


BUGGED MARTINI. For $500 anyone can buy a plastic olive (shown in cross section) with built-in-sending device and a toothpick antenna. Plopped in a martini, it can transmit cocktail party conversation 100 feet.


The Miniature Tools of The Eavesdropper’s Trade

Electronic eavesdropping owes its boom to the invention of the transistor and the printed circuit which made miniaturization possible. As manufacturers lead-frog each other in turning out ingenious new refinements, the components they sell have been getting smaller and more efficient. One item they offer, for example, a Dick Tracy-style wristwatch microphone, is downright cumbersome compared with other mikes that are as small as sugar cubes.

So rapidly is the field developing that today’s devices may soon be outmoded by systems utilizing microcircuits so tiny that a transmitter made of them would be thinner and smaller that a postage stamp and could be slipped, undetected, virtually anywhere. Some research labs are already experimenting with FM transmitters smaller than an aspirin tablet that can be put inside the bodies of animals and generate their electrical power from the animals’ own body heat. There are research tools meant for purposes other that spying, but there is little doubt that specialists in eavesdropping equipment will be quick to adapt the new techniques for their own uses. How to safeguard individual rights in a world suddenly turned into a peephole and listening post has become the toughest, trickiest legal problem facing the U.S. today.

SENATE INVESTIGATOR. Senator Long inspects at attaché case rigged with receiver, voice actuator and tape recorder. At right foreground is kit’s transmitter that fits into cigarette pack.


Laws with Ambiguity The technology of snooping has so outdistanced the law that controls are all but nonexistent. A new FCC regulation, adopted only last month, bars to all but law enforcement agencies the se of radio devices to transmit or record conversations without the consent of all parties. But this is a purely a government regulation lacking the hard force of statutory law. There are no federal statutes on eavesdropping and only one that deals specifically with tapping telephones. This is Section 605 of the Communications Act of 1934, and Attorney General Katzenbach says that today “it would be difficult to devise a law more totally unsatisfactory.”

State laws add to the confusion. Eight states (Pennsylvania, Illinois, Wisconsin, Kentucky, California, New Jersey, Florida and Michigan) ban wiretapping altogether. One, Louisiana, permits only law officers to tap phones. Five states (New York, Oregon, Maryland, Nevada and Massachusetts) allow tapping under court order. In all the rest, the issue has been ignored or the laws are open to inconclusive interpretation.


BUGGED TELEPHONE. A specialist shows how to “fix” a phone. A mike and a transmitter placed inside the mouthpiece will tap the phone and bug the entire room at the same time.


BUGS THAT THE EYE MIGHT OVERLOOK. Above, is a sampler of snooping devices. The picture frame contains hidden transmitter that will operate 200 hours on built-in battery. From left to right, first row below picture: a “shocker,” designed to be hidden on body with dimes taped to the skin to serve as electrodes, can receive coded shocks from, say a bridge partner; a pair of boxes that can turn a telephone into a microphone; cuff-link mike; world’s smallest commercially available transmitter – postage-stamp size – that can pick up whisper at 20 feet; FM transmitter that can fit into cigarette case. Below it is device for tapping phones. Below “shocker” at left are two other telephone-linetapping devices. Pen above watch-mike is mike; pen below watch is transmitter. Audio-electronic stethoscope, held to wall, can listen in on the next room.


In general, law enforcement agencies are restrained by the uncertainty that evidence obtained by electronic snooping will hold up in court. Evidence uncovered by wiretapping has been held to be “tainted” and therefore inadmissible in a federal trial. Courts have further ruled electronic eavesdropping evidence is admissible only if it was not the result of a trespass on the property of the subject. In the 1963 Lopez case, the Supreme Court ruled that a tape recorder hidden on the person of an investigator did not itself constitute a trespass and that tapes obtained were admissible evidence.

RIGGED ELECTRIC OUTLET. Concealed in the reverse side is a mike that picks up sound through the screw hold that links outlet to wall. Sound can be transmitted along power line.

BUGGED TELEPHONE. A specialist shows how to “fix” a phone. A mike and a transmitter placed inside the mouthpiece will tap the phone and bug the entire room at the same time.

TAPPED PHONE TERMINALS. When attached to baseboard it looks like an ordinary terminal block but has an amplifier built into back and mike concealed in hold drilled into the plastic.

Private citizens who go in for electronic eavesdropping do pretty much what they can get away with, which is plenty (see On Assignment). When the chairman of the board of the Schenley Corporation found listening devices in his office last year – presumably installed by a competitor – there wasn’t a great deal he could do except rip them out. Senator Long believes the best solution is a law requiring licensing of all bugging equipment. But the particulars of such legislation remain vague – especially since every transistor radio is crammed full of components that any expert can turn into a bug.


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